Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Reflections from a Running Study Guinea Pig

Dday 189

After a run on a particularly rainy day. This was the shirt I was wearing *under* my rain jacket!

Today marked the last of the Sunday group runs for the running study (which is looking at if there are differences between males and females in overtraining injuries while training for a 10 km race) that I’ve been taking part in over the past 11 weeks. There are just three more training runs left until our 10 km “race”1. In this study, we’ve had 4 running sessions per week2 – one group run on Sundays, one track workout (which I’ve mostly done on a treadmill3, and two “easy” runs. Despite having been a runner for the past seven years, I don’t think I’ve ever consistently maintained a four day per week running schedule. I’ve also ended up doing *a lot* of my running on a treadmill, due to the fact that this has taken place in the winter, when it’s too dark to go running outside by myself before I leave for work and too dark by the time I get home from work. Luckily, I have a free gym at work so I’ve been going there three times per week before work to get my run in.

Since “reflection” is one of my themes for the year, I figured I’d take some time for few reflections on my experience as a guinea pig in a running study.

  • I really like getting in a workout before work. I feel so much more alert and ready to tackle the day after sweating it out at the gym. In the past, I’ve typically been a go-for-a-run-when-I-get-home-from-work kind of gal, but I’m starting to wonder if this before work thing isn’t what I should really be aiming for.
  • Another benefit of doing my workouts in the morning is that it forces me to be more organized.  I know that for me to have any chance to get to the gym early enough, I have to be able to roll out of bed and head out the door with minimal tasks in between, so I pack my bag – including everything I need for the gym4, my work clothes for the day, and my lunch – and layout my gym clothes before bed, so that I can just get up in the morning, throw on my gym clothes, grab my bag, and head out the door. I just don’t seem to be motivated to do that kind of prep if I’m not going to the gym in the morning, and then I end up either scrambling to get it all done or skipping things like making my lunch.
    Day 187

    After a run on the treadmill at the gym at work. I look happy because I was done running on the damn treadmill.

  • I hate treadmills. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. I like running when you can forget that you are running, because you are looking at the beautiful sights around you or chatting with your running partner. Staring at the clock counting down on the treadmill makes it seem to take an eternity and sucks the life out of me. I bring a towel and use it to cover up the time, but I *know* the time is counting down underneath the towel and I’m always tempted to look. Because there’s nothing else to look at! The gym I go to does have TVs, but they are quite far away so it’s difficult to read the closed captioning and there are only two TVs for the whole gym, so you don’t get a choice of what to watch. One week the TVs were broken such that the only channel they would play was showing Jerry Springer and it made me die a little inside every time I saw one woman punching another woman over some loser guy… which is about 97% of that show. I have been listening to audiobooks as I run on the treadmill and that’s helped make it doable, but just barely. This past week I actually went to the gym with a friend and she did the elliptical next to my treadmill and we chatted throughout the whole workout and it was over in no time at all.
  • I hate treadmills less when I’m doing intervals. As I mentioned, I did most of our track workouts on the treadmill and I actually found that when we had to do short intervals, like 2 minutes fast/2 minutes jogging or 400 m fast/400 m jogging, it was actually kind of fun, because it gave you something to do (turn the speed up and down) at fairly regular intervals, so you wear a bit distracted and watching the clock was useful as you frequently had to do something about the time, rather than just staring at it slowly ticking down. But nearer to the end of the training program the intervals got long (like 1600m or 2400m) and so it was back to feeling like just a regular long run (albeit at a faster pace) and I got bored again.
  • Day 178

    Heading out for a run on New Year’s Day in the new running jacket that my Uncle Harry and Aunt Arlene got me for Christmas!

  • I enjoy running with a running group. I’ve been wanting to join a running group for a while and, in fact, it was one of the things that drew me to participate in this study. I’ve never found a group that fit with my schedule before, so I’ve never done it until now. I really liked meeting up with other people who are into running, sharing tips about stretches and what races we are doing and other such fun things. As an added bonus, you get to meet new and interesting people and, as I mentioned, chatting with other people really makes the time go by that much quicker. Sadly, I didn’t meet any eligible bachelors (I was also hoping when I joined the study that there might be some), but perhaps there will be some in the next running group I join?
  • You often here that intrinsic motivators are better than extrinsic motivators, but I have to say that when it comes to running, I need my extrinsic motivators! I’ve long known that if I don’t have a race that I’m training for, I don’t run. It’s just too easy to not throw on my running gear and hit the pavement. I’ll think “I don’t know how long/far I should run today” and that will be enough of a barrier to stop me from going out at all. When I’m training for a race, I follow a training plan so that I don’t have to make any decisions about how long/far I need to run on a given day and I’m motivated by the fact that I have to be able to do a certain distance by a certain date! This study has taken it one step further in that not only do I have a training plan to follow, but I also have the extrinsic motivator that the scientists are depending on me to do all the training runs because science depends on it!
  • I really need to do more cross training. Since I’ve been going to the gym at work, I’ve been running into colleagues who go to the gym for the weights. And it’s gotten me thinking that once this running study is over, I should probably find a good weight training program to follow, because I’m doing all cardio, all the time. I’ve also been wanting to get back to yoga, as my muscles are pretty tight right now!
  • Being an athlete means doing laundry all the time. Running four times a week and playing hockey twice a week makes for a heck of a lot of laundry. I have lots of technical shirts from the various races I’ve done, but I only have a limited number of sports bras and running shorts, plus I only have one pair of shorts with a jill built in for playing hockey, so I’m really, really thankful that I have in-suite laundry.

So, in conclusion, being in this study has been great in that it’s really kickstarted my 2014 running at a much higher frequency than I’m used to, gotten me motivated to workout before work, and I’ve met some great people. A++, would science again.

  1. I put “race” in quotation marks because it’s a race that was created just for this study. []
  2. Except over the Christmas holidays, when it was just 2 runs per week. []
  3. Because the track group gets together out at UBC, which is way too far for me to want to go to on a weekday evening. []
  4. Water bottle, headphones, towel/soap/shampoo/conditioner, makeup/brush, etc. []

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Ontario Science Centre – A (Very) Brief Review

As previously mentioned, I met up with my friend Sarah and her family at the Ontario Science Centre today. Sarah et al live in Ontario, but are in the GTA to see her in laws and so they came out to meet me today and the OSC seemed like a good place to do that because (a) we are science nerds and (b) they have an almost 5-year-old and a ~3 year old and the OSC has lots of fun things for them to play with and gives them a chance to run around and burn up some energy. They also have a nice baby – 10 weeks old – so it was awesome to get to meet her for the first time.

I remember quite liking the Science Centre, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been there and once inside *nothing* looked even remotely familiar except for the electrified ball that you touch that makes your hair stick out all over. I couldn’t believe how big the place was – we were there for 3 hours and didn’t even get to all the different floors. We all had a really good time and it was great to have a chance to catch up with Sarah and Dave and to see the kids. They have gotten so big since I last saw them – and they are so adorable!

I didn’t take any pictures at the Science Centre because I’m lame, here’s one that someone posted on Flickr. Hooray!

Ontario Science Centre: Plasma Ball

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On a bus!

Just to mix things up, I’m on a bus instead of a subway today. Off to the Ontario Science Centre to meet up with Sarah and her fam. Because science. I haven’t been to the OSC in a while, but I do remember it being pretty awesome. Because science. I’m sure there will be a blog posting about our science-based adventures in the very near future! Because blogging!

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Men Wanted

So you know that running study1 I was telling you about yesterday? They need more men to join. The study is meant to look at if sex is a risk factor for running injuries, so they need to have both males and females and right now they have more females. So boys, if you are interested in running and interested in science, this group is chalk full of fit ladies! Just sayin’.

If you are interested, you can tweet the study manager at @justdoitYVR or email ubc.amsmc.research@gmail.com.

  1. Also, at the running group this morning, we met the Principal Investigator for the study, Jack Taunton. He’s a sports med doctor who was the Chief Medical Officer for the 2010 Olympics and founded both the Sun Run and the Vancouver International Marathon, among other achievements. So, you know, a total slacker. []

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Running FOR SCIENCE!

As you know, I love me some running. And as you also know, I love me some science. So I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I’ve joined a running study.

Specifically, this study is comparing males and females going through a training program for a 10 km race with respect to injuries1. Basically, there is a 12 week training plan that we follow, including a mandatory2 group run on Sunday mornings and 3 other runs per week that we do on our own3,4. And then we answer a bunch of questionnaires about our running and any pain we experience. And then at the end we run in a 10 km race that they invented for this study. I’ve always wanted to join a running group and never found one that quite worked for me5, so this way I get to be part of a running group *and* contribute to science. Plus, I have a tendency to be very unmotivated to run after I do a half marathon – I usually think, “Oh, I just need a little rest time to recovery” and then the habit is broken and 6 months go by and I haven’t gone out for a run. As you know, I’m running the Fall Classic half marathon next weekend, so being in this study will be just the motivation I need to get running in the days and weeks after the race.

The training officially starts tomorrow, but I got my first taste of the study two Sundays ago when I went out to the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at UBC for my baseline measurements. This included measurements of my legs and feet and tests for balance, flexibility, and strength.

In the balance test, you had to first balance on a metal plate that measured the fluctuations as you balanced on one foot. And then you had do the same thing, but first you had to jump over a barrier and land on one foot and they measured the fluctuations as you tried to re-gain your balance. Have you ever tried jumping on one foot, over a barrier, landing and actually being balanced? It’s as hard as it sounds!

The picture doesn’t really give you a good sense of it, but that yellow barrier is a good 6 inches high. You had to stand on the wooden part, jump over the yellow thing and land on the metal plate:

IMG_4593

Here are my test results, though since I’m not a physiotherapist, I have no idea what they mean:

IMG_4592

The other thing they did at the baseline assessment was a 3D scan of your foot. This study is sponsored by Nike6 and apparently this 3D scanning technology was “shipped all the way from Nike headquarters”!

To do the 3D scan, they put little stickers on different parts of your foot and then you stood with your foot in a box that shot lasers7 at you:

Day 112

And it looked like this:

But then we had to re-do that one because the computer said no. But in the end we got lovely 3D scans of my feet:

I’m not sure exactly what they are doing with all these measurements, as they specifically told us that they are only taking these measurements at baseline, but not later. The rest of the study is just questionnaires (including the pain scale I mentioned8 ). I presume they are comparing the males to the females at baseline to see where we are all starting from, but I guess they aren’t interested in balance, flexibility, strength or the shape of our 3D feet as outcome measures.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to having a structured training program to follow and meeting some new running friends.

Let the running begin!

  1. At least, that’s what they told us. But I get the impression that what they consider an “injury” is somewhat different from what I would call an “injury” – as the baseline assessment involved rating your level of pain on a pain scale, but I don’t think of just run-of-the-mill pain as an “injury” per se. I’d consider it more just being the result of using my body and/or aging. []
  2. Well, it was called “mandatory” when we signed up for the study, but has since been downgraded to “strongly recommended”, probably at least in part because it spans the holiday season and some of the participants will be traveling over the holidays and thus won’t be able to attend the Sunday runs during that time. []
  3. Tuesday nights are track training and there’s an option to do this run out at UBC, but frankly given my 2 nights a week where I have to drive to Point Grey for classes, the last thing I want to do is drive out there when I don’t have to []
  4. Given that we are in the part of the year where the sun sets so damn early (i.e., it’s pitch black out by the time I get home from work at 5pm), I think I’m going to have to get over my distaste for treadmills and do my running during the week on the treadmill at the gym at work. I figure if I go into work a bit early, do my run and then shower and get ready at the gym. I remember when I did a similar thing for my 26 hot yoga sessions in 30 days and I found that as long as I was organized enough with my bag packed and ready to go, I actually really like the schedule. I feel super energized and much more productive during the day when I exercise first thing in the morning. []
  5. They always seem to be on Wednesdays and I have Wednesday night hockey games. []
  6. Participants are apparently getting a free Nike Tshirt and the volunteers helping out with the study all got Nike shoes. Which, for the female, were, of course, pink. []
  7. I think. I asked the volunteers doing the scan “How does this work?” and they were all “lasers… I think. []
  8. I mentioned it in the footnote. You are reading the footnotes, right? []

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The Letters of Dr. Beth

Earlier today, Cath posted a link to an article 1 in the latest issue of Nature about the importance to science history of archiving correspondence between scientists and how since everyone communicates by emails, and Tweets, and IMs, and texts, and Facebook messages these days (as opposed to the handwritten letters in the old-time-y days of yore), no one thinks to preserve these. The article talked about how scientists should work with archivists to determine which documents – both paper and virtual – should be archived for historians to be able to work with someday and that this archiving needs to be funded. As the author put it: “We want our scholarly successors to be able to follow the twists and turns of the scientific, political and personal pathways” related to important scientific discoveries.

Now I realize that I haven’t stumbled upon a groundbreaking scientific discovery… yet. But perhaps some of my correspondence with my colleagues should be preserved for history just in case. To that end, I give you just a smattering of examples of my daily correspondence with colleagues. The names of other parties have been changed to protect the innocent – “OP” in these transcripts stands for the “other person”:

Email exchanges with a colleague who works in my building:

Me: I noticed the ½ price tea lattes on the white board at lunch today and got all excited about the “½ price” aspect… but then I realized I’ve never had a tea latte. Have you ever had one?

 

OP: I don’t know! I really like tea, and lattes, so I don’t see where they could go wrong. But that is a question we will probably have to answer by experience.

 

Me: Ah, yes, experience is the answer. I like your evidence-based line of thinking

 

OP: Yes, it’s hard, but we must do the field work!

 

Me: My shoulder hurts, my computer is being slow and I hate MS Word. Care to go get a coffee?

 

OP: That is a really sad story! I think we must get coffee. 10 minutesÉ Nuts, it happened again… my keyboard switches to Spanish almost every afternoon and suddenly I have É instead of a question mark, and è instead of a single quotation. Every. Single. Afternoon…

 

Me: Clearly your account is possessed by the ghost of a Spanish-speaking individual who was murdered in the afternoon and now returns to haunt computers from beyond the grave. 10 minutes sounds good. Shall I meet you at the front?

 

OP: Yes, clearly! I hadnèt though of that. I need to grab my jacket so ièll grab you in the process. (ahhhhh)

 

Me: Do we need free coffee2 today?

 

OP: Yup, uh huh, yes.

 

Me:  Excellent. I like that you provided a second and third opinion on this matter. Very efficient!

 

—-

Me: Thanks for the feedback! I’ll make those changes ASAP! And coffee at 2 pm sounds delightful! You can tell me all about your conversation with [name redacted]!

I like exclamation points!

 

OP:  Yes! Me! Too!!!

 

Email exchange with a colleague who lives on the other side of the country:

OP: I’m currently working on a Google document with 3 other people simultaneously. This shit is awesome.
I’m so living in the future right now.
Me: I was on a webinar with people from all over North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa this morning. Now I’m on a webinar with, among others, peeps from the Institute of Medicine in the US, learning about how they are working on Obamacare re: determining what things actually need to be covered by mandatory health care. And I’m doing all this in my pyjamas!

The future indeed.

—-

Email exchange with a colleague with whom I was collaborating on writing a grant application:

OP: Hey Beth,

How does one modify page numbers? I need mine to start at 11, and Microsoft word is a giant bitch. Have I mentioned how much I hate this program?
GAH
In other news, I’m almost done everything. ;)
Me: W00t to almost done everything!

As for page numbers, you just have to do the following:
Insert –> Page numbers — then click “Format”  – then click the circle next to “Start at” and type the page number you want to start your numbering from. And presto! You have the glorious page number!
OP: Ya, that’s the weird thing. I don’t have “Format” or a “start at” circle. I HATE WORD SO MUCH.

No worries. I’ve just created another document with 10 blank pages. I’ll let Adobe fix it for me. W00t!
In terms of the rest of the numbering though – how do we make sure that everything is numbered consecutively? Or do we? I mean, my CV apparently goes first, which would make all the numbering on your CV out of whack. Or do we care about this?
Me: I think the numbering of the CVs is separate for each CV. At least, that’s how I’ve always done it because it would be an insane exercise to get the numbering right when you have multiple applicants. [Name of computer system from granting agency] generates page numbers for the pages it produces, but sometimes it makes pages like 10a, 10b just to fuck with you. Because [Name of computer system from granting agency], like MS Word, is evil. And probably run by spiders. I think the best thing to do is to generate the pdf of all the crap that you put into [Name of computer system from granting agency] to see what page numbers it gives you and then we can number our two documents (“Research Proposal” and “Summary of Research Proposal”) based on whatever the last page of the [Name of computer system from granting agency]-generated pdf is.

I hope that makes sense. Because my brain is so tired right now! So tired!
OP: It does. This grant writing crap deserves a punch in the head. Fortunately I’m going to quiet my demons by feeding them beer in exactly 2 hours.

Science without beer is just torture.
Me: Why can’t we just come up with an idea and then [Granting Agency] & [Other Granting Agency] just give us a bunch of money based on our brilliant idea, without making us do stupid things like sort out page numbers on pdfs? Just give us money and beer and let us get to the sciencing!

 

  1. Link only works if you have a subscription to Nature though. Sorry about that. []
  2. This exchanged happened on a day when McDonald’s was giving out free coffee. McDonald’s coffee, as it turns out, is not half bad. And when free, doubly so. []

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Research It!

Where in this case, the “it” is me!

Item #81 on my 101 list is: participate in five research projects (as a research subject, not a researcher) and I recently heard about a very cool research project called the BC Generations Project that I’m eligible to participate in.

From their website:

“With five regional study teams and hundreds of thousands of Canadians participating, the project may help researchers better understand why some people develop cancer and other chronic diseases. The main funder of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project is theCanadian Partnership Against Cancer, with regional funders contributing additional paid and in-kind support.

In many cases, the known risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases (such as heart disease or diabetes) are similar. By following a large group of people over a long period of time (known as a prospective cohort), this initiative will help researchers learn much more about how environment, lifestyle and genes contribute to both cancer and related chronic diseases.”

When you join up, you fill out a questionnaire about all sorts of lifestyle factors, family history, personal health history, etc. There’s also an option to go to an “assessment centre” where they will measure your bone density and body mass index1 and they may ask you for a blood and urine sample.

The project is slated to go on for 25 years (i.e., until 2037!), and the researchers will be contacting participants to do other assessments in the future, as well as tracking health care usage and such.

Being a science nerd such as I am, as well as someone who loves the fill out surveys, this gets me giddy. And knowing that I’m contributing to our understanding of the interaction of genes, lifestyle, and the environment on chronic diseases is just icing on the cake.

If you are between the ages of 35-69 and live in Canada, I encourage you to check it out and consider participating ((The link is to the BC Generations Project, but I’m sure you can find information about how to sign up in your province on their site somewhere.))!

Also, you can like them on Facebook and follow their tweets!

  1. BMI is calculated from height and weight, which you self-report in the questionnaire. But self-reports of height and weight aren’t always accurate (people tend to report themselves as taller and lighter than they are), so having it actually measured by a researcher gives better quality information. []

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Movin’ On Up

Hey, remember when I started a nerdy science blog with my friend Dave? The one that I had to, sadly, take my leave from when I started my MBA? Well, that site has been picked up by University Affairs magazine’s site!

If you are interested in issues affecting early career scientists – and you know you are – I encourage you to check out The Black Hole over at its shiny new home on the University Affairs site!

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What All The Cool Kids Will Be Doing On September 27th

My friend Dr. Erika is giving a public lecture as part of the Café Scientifique series of public lectures:

Our next café will happen on Tuesday September 27 at the Railway Club (579 Dunsmuir Street) at 7:30pm. Our speaker that evening will be Erika Eliason, an expert on Pacific salmon migration who has been featured on the UBC Public Affairs webpage. Her talk that evening will be:

Pacific Salmon and Climate Change 

Every year, millions of Pacific salmon return from the ocean to the Fraser River to perform their upriver, adult spawning migration. Pacific salmon typically return to spawn in the same stream where they were born. This has resulted in many geographically and genetically distinct populations. In recent years, warm river temperatures have been associated with high mortality during the upriver spawning migration, raising clear conservation concerns. My research is focused on understanding why salmon die when the water gets too warm and how different populations vary in their susceptibility to warm temperatures.

We hope to see you there!

-Your Café Sci Vancouver Organizers (http://blogs.ubc.ca/cafesci/)

It will be everything you ever wanted to know about Pacific Salmon and Climate Change. Be there are be square.

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New Drug Makes Viruses Say, “FML!”

A friend of mine brought this awesome news story to my attention the other day:

New drug could cure nearly any viral infection
Researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Lab have developed technology that may someday cure the common cold, influenza and other ailments.

From the article:

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

In a paper published July 27 in the journal PLoS One, the researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology.

Rotavirus.

It’s really rather mindboggling to imagine a drug that can work against all viruses and that specifically targets only those cells that are infected with a virus, leaving all non-infected cells unharmed. Imagine a world where we don’t have to worry about everything from the common cold to HIV to Ebola. Rather unbelievable.

Of course, whenever I hear of something that sounds too good to be true, I have to wonder what the catch is. Because the development of a wonder drug sounds like the kind of thing that one might see at the start of a zombie apocalypse in a horror movie. Needless to say, given my love of virology and my apprehension about zombies, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this developing story.

Here’s the full article, if you are interested in reading such things.

Image Credit: From the Wikimedia Commons.