Trail Running with Real Gold at Stake!


Re-connected today with Mihira Lakshman, editor-in-chief at Canadian Running magazine, and was delighted to read his feature on trail runners staking claims for prospectors in Northern Ontario. I didn’t realize the practice existed, but the tradition goes back a while. Talk about taking running to a whole new level. You can read the whole story here.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Gosselin remembers one incident when a rival prospector stole his final post. “When I came in to write my finishing time down [on the final post], my post wasn’t there anymore. It was on camera that I came in first, but since I didn’t record it on a post, it wasn’t really official,” he says. The camera didn’t show the post being stolen, but the company that hired Gosselin for that run later fought and won the case in court.

It’s a high-stakes game. Although the prospectors are sometimes shelling out hundreds of dollars to hire claim runners – even more for vehicle help – if they successfully earn the claim, mining companies could offer millions for the rights. “If you stake a gold mine, I can’t even put a price on it,” says Compass Exploration’s Norm Collins, who hires Gosselin to run for him a few times each year. “It’s a dirty game for sure. There’s a lot of backstabbing and a lot of illegal moves that happen out there,” Collins adds.

The process is steeped in tradition. The claim-stakers must “blaze the trail” between their corner posts to officially mark their territory. Runners carry hatchets as they sprint down the 400m stretches between posts, putting marks in trees every 50m. Usually the prospectors that hire the runners will mark the path with tape on the trees, but sometimes orienteering and bushwhacking are necessary. The main skill, however, is speed. Gosselin says cross-country athletes make the best claim runners since they are strong enough to handle the hills and treacherous footing. “I usually wear an aggressive trail shoe, and duct tape my shoe to my ankles, so it doesn’t come off. And you can build [the tape] up around your ankles to protect them.” Every few steps, he expects to fall. “You bite the dust, big time.

Although prospecting has been around in the area for a century, hiring runners to stake the claims is a relatively recent phenomenon. “It used to be just prospectors who would normally do this,” says Collins, who has been in the business for 20 years. His father, also a prospector, came up with the idea of using cross-country runners. Collins and his younger brother were both competitive high school runners, and they found the competition in claim-staking somewhat pedestrian in the late 80s and early 90s. “We used to kick butt,” he recalls. “Eventually a bunch of our friends from the local high school (Theriault High School in Timmins, Ont.) – a good running school – started doing it for my dad and other companies around town.”


Teenage fitness level and adult depression linked

A recently released study suggests better cardiovascular fitness at age 18 is associated with lower depression rates in adulthood.  Dr. Maria  Åberg, MD, PhD, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, said the correlation can be seen for up to the next 40 years of a person’s life.

This is how Medscape Today reports on the study:

“A proposed mechanism is that physical exercise could reverse the reduced neuronal plasticity that is observed in both depression and bipolar disorders. Previous human studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of depression, but most of these have been based on interviews with adults and the results have been inconclusive, and we felt that there was a real need for a large study with long follow-up times and objective measures of physical performance,” Dr. Åberg explained.

The researchers carried out a prospective cohort study of all Swedish men born between 1950 and 1987 with no history of mental illness who were enlisted for mandatory military service at the age of 18 years.

When enlisting, all 1,117,292 men were given extensive physical and psychological examinations, including tests of their cardiovascular and muscle fitness.

The men were followed between 1969 and 2008. The researchers used data from the Swedish National Hospital Discharge Register to see how may had received inpatient treatment for depression.

The study showed that the men who performed poorly on the cardiovascular fitness tests at age 18 years were at greater risk of being hospitalized with depression in later life.

After controlling for factors that included body mass index, conscription test center, and familial factors, the hazard ratio (HR) associated with lower cardiovascular fitness at age 18 for serious depression in adulthood was 1.96 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.71 – 2.23).

There was no such association found for bipolar disorder (HR, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.84 – 1.47).

“Doctors can tell their teenage patients and their parents that the brain needs two types of training, both cognitive challenges and physical exercise,” Dr. Åberg said.

Exercise-not just about the weight loss

How many people do you know who’ve given up an exercise program when the weight doesn’t come off immediately? Too many, I’m sure.

Now, there’s yet another study showing that there are benefits to exercise, even when the stones aren’t dropping.

The Journal of the American Medical association (JAMA) published a piece this week extolling the benefits of exercise for diabetes patients. The opinion,  released to coincide with the 72nd annual Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association,  suggests that even moderate exercise can help treat diabetes caused by obesity. Here’s a portion of that report:

“There’s long-standing evidence that physical fitness can help people live longer, even those who carry too many pounds. Seminal research by Steven Blair, PED (then at the CooperInstitute of Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas) and colleagues found that cardiovascular fitness is strongly associated with improved survival and is independent of body weight (Blair SN et al. JAMA. 1989;262[17]:2395-2401). Further studies have extended these findings, showing that physical fitness is closely associated with diabetes, also independent of body fatness.

There is a dramatic, steep increase in mortality among patients with very low fitness scores. “Actually, it is not fitness we are concerned about but rather low fitness,” said Carl Lavie, MD, of the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, who spoke at a symposium on the importance of fitness on the pathophysiology and treatment of diabetes. Although both fitness and fatness are important, cardiorespiratory fitness greatly modifies the association of obesity with death due to cardiovascular disease, he said.

The underlying mechanism, explained John Thyfault, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the University of Missouri, appears to be the key role that that muscle plays in how the body processes glucose. The best indicator for the risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease is the glucose response when food is consumed. The release of insulin following food ingestion facilitates glucose transport into muscle and fat and inhibits a mechanism the body uses to keep blood glucose levels from dropping too low, hepatic gluconeogenesis (the generation of glucose in the liver from substances other than carbohydrates, such as lactate). About 80% of circulating glucose is transported into muscle, making it the most important organ in maintaining proper glucose levels.”

The researchers conclude that some of the benefit of exercise in patients with diabetes comes from NOT being sedentary, and not necessarily from being superfit. They also suggest that resistance and strength training are also important in improving the health of diabetics.

Ponytail joggers at risk!

Some runners along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa may be considering protective headgear. Once again this spring, redwing blackbirds are targeting female runners. Women with ponytails seem to be especially at risk, according to people who live nearby. Here’s CBC Ottawa’s Cory O’Kelly reporting on the bizarre phenomenon.

This isn’t the first year the angry birds have made a scene, as you can see in this report by the Ottawa Sun from spring 2011. The reality of birds attacking runners isn’t limited to the Rideau Canal either. Nesting birds of prey can be particularly dangerous. And in the UK, this local news story suggests that the crow is especially fond of blonde joggers. A local wildlife specialist even suggests that some runners might consider wearing hard hats!

Light jogging and longevity

Gain might come without pain

It’s just one study, but it touches on one of my favorite topics. Can science actually tell us whether running or jogging is good for us? And what is the ideal amount?

A Danish study suggests light workouts over the long term might be best

A study from Copenhagen looked at people between the ages of 20 and 93, and measured how much they ran. They did this over a 20-year period. Turns out people jogging lightly, a couple of times of week, are living longer lives.

For me, the study’s biggest limitation is in what it measures! Longevity is a commonly used marker for health, but how does it compare to other factors? How many people actually run so they can live longer?  A lot of people run because they feel pleasure in the moment. Others do it because it makes them feel stronger with everything they do in life.

The trails of New Jersey! Some people run for the joy of being in the woods.

For more on the study from Peter Schnohr, MD, in Copenhagen, please read the JAMA article  by clicking here.

i2P – Running across the Andes

"You toughen up. You have no choice."

Kevin Vallely sees the world in ways most of us only dream of.  One of the world’s leading explorers, he set a speed record skiing to the south pole in 2009,  trekked across the sea of Siberia in 2010, and completed the grueling Fiji Eco Challenge in 2002. I could continue listing his accomplishments for several pages, but will point instead to his next expedition, the i2P Andes Run from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, set for February 2012.  The G4S Q+A that follows reveals a man with a sharp mind and a tough pair of feet.

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The dogged Ironman

Patrick O'Neill battles to an impressive finish

We’re all getting older -but no less interesting, I discovered at my Loyola High School 30th reunion celebration recently. The boys from the class of ’81 are finding various ways to battle, or slow down time. Some of them are using sport and/or adventure racing. In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you about Kevin Vallely; but today I’m publishing a guest post from one classmate who was too busy training to make it to the reunion.

Patrick O’Neill, who was featured in an earlier post, recently completed another ironman triathlon in Florida. Here are his thoughts. Continue reading