Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The cemeteries are beautiful today.

Here are a couple of pics from my run this afternoon.  Enjoy!

Finding Water for Trail Runners - Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on water and trail runners.  You can find the first part here.  In the first part, hopefully, I've convinced you to not drink from streams.  So what options do you have?

  1. Bring enough water.  Okay, while this seems obvious, I'm going to tell you to bring extra in your car.  Because if you know you have a couple of liters in your car, you might be more willing to....
  2. Just get dehydrated. Suck it up, buttercup.  You'll run slower, but you won't die.  Oh, you'll feel miserable, and possibly get a wicked headache.  You probably don't need to worry about heatsroke, though - that's a myth.   If you want to learn more about that, read the 2008 Science of Sport coverage on that, which you can find here, here, and here.  But hey, I don't know where you're running, and maybe it's Death Valley.  I'm in New England.
  3. Call ahead and ask.  A park employee might know about sources of potable water that aren't necessarily easy to spot on the map, including wells installed for parks work or at a research station.  They also might tell you where the water is particularly bad.
  4. Ask Bear Grylls.  No, don't do that.  It's gross.

    Okay, very well.  You've decided to drink some water out on the trail anyway.  Let me help you out then. 

    First, pick  your water.  Go for a stream rather than a lake, and don't drink from a green lake.  Some of the algae that can grow in lakes can make a compound called microcystin, and this can cause liver failure.  They even cancel triathlons for microcystin.

    Second, if you can, go upstream from any livestock.  

    What's in the water?  Nothing nice.
    Next, if you see a lot of pipes sticking out of the ground, keep on walking.  PVC or metal.  While these could be a number of things, one possibility is that this is a monitoring well.  Monitoring wells allow hydrologists to periodically analyze underground water.  Why do hydrologists want to monitor the water chemistry?  Hmmm.....  most likely it's because something ain't right down there.  Uranium?  Arsenic?  Who knows?  Well, maybe you if you called ahead.
    Okay then.   So you've picked a stream with some water in it, and you want to try to make it as potable as possible, right?  Now, keep in mind, you're never going to get it as clean as what you've come to expect out of your tap, so we're really looking at lowering your risk of getting sick. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finding Water for Trail Runners - Part 1

Every creek is Shit Creek.
Summer is coming up!  You may already know this, but I'm a microbiology professor.  My research interests are in groundwater quality.  A lot of my trail running friends ask me if it's okay to drink creek water when they are out on the trail, but for the most part, they are looking for someone to validate their poor choice to drink creek water.  Should you drink creek water?   Yeah, it's not such a good idea.  In this post, I'll explain why, and in the next post, I'll give you some alternatives.

But Heather!  I drink stream water all the time and I never get sick!  Hasn't hurt me yet!

Well, congratulations?  Do you want to keep rolling the dice?

I can't get really sick, can I?  

Yeah, unfortunately, you can get really sick, and possibly dead.   In the US, we tend to take our water quality for granted, and I don't think most of us appreciate how amazing it is that we have clean water flowing out of our faucets.  I do, and I'm thankful for it every day.

How bad is it out there?  The EPA thinks it's reasonable for "only" 1 in 28 beachgoers to get diarrhea after swimming.  And that's after swimming, not after chug-a-lugging several liters.  Fact - there's poop in the water.  And you can't get away from it by going into the forest, because there's animals there and they all have butts too.

All those fuzzy forest critters and even some of the birds are capable of shedding microbes that make us sick.  Sometimes, public lands are even used to graze livestock, and their feces can end up in the water as well.  You won't necessarily be able to spot that.  Assume every creek is shit creek.

The consequences?  Well, perhaps, nothing will happen to you.  We're all warned about giardiasis, but the truth is, only about half of the people that get infected actually become sick.  You could get lucky.  Hooray!  Or, maybe you'll get a little sick.  But some of the illnesses you can get can be debilitating.  When a friend of mine had giardiasis, he practically lived in the bathroom.  You couldn't even have a conversation with him - and this was before smartphones and tablets!   A case of Hepatitis A or crypto might take you out of racing for an entire season.  There have been instances of water-borne transmission of E. coli  0157:H7 - and that can kill you.

But let me get a little cynical here for a second.  Are your other friends telling you that it's cool to drink from streams?  I think your other friends just want you to poop in your running shorts and blog about it, or spend most of your race 20 feet off the trail, so they can win the pint glass. If you end up sick enough to be out for a while, they might even pass around rumors that you've become a triathlete.  I may be a fan of good bathroom stories, but I'm a much better friend. 

I grew a beard, but everyone still recognizes me.
In addition to infectious diseases, water in the forest could be flat out polluted.  Do you really know the land use history for the places you are running?  For example, if you're running trip involves trails that go up into the mountains, there's a half decent chance that any given water source could be contaminated with "mine tailings", and you'll be drinking mercury, arsenic, lead, and cyanide.  Is it enough to hurt you?  I have no idea.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Productive Winter

I haven't used this blog much, but I've been considering writing a bit more about my running other than race reports.  So I thought I'd recap on how running has gone for me this past winter.

Early in the winter, I made the decision to sign up for another 50 mile race.  I ran my first at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge last spring, and didn't enjoy it all that much.  But the course is boring, and I'd run it before.  Fall went well for me, and I knocked nearly 20 minutes off of my 2011 time at Bimblers Bluff, despite running a couple of bonus miles.  So I decided to give the distance another shot.

This time, though, I'd pick a more interesting course.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

TARC Spring Thaw 6 hour, 2013

Again, another post in the "Better late than never" column....  On March 24th, I ran the 2nd TARC Spring Thaw 6 hour, which is a fantastic event run by Emily Trespas.  I ran it last year, and had a fantastic time.  You can read about it here.  Last year, the weather was glorious, but this year?

This year?

Yeah, there was a little bit of snow.  A lot, actually.  This is where we put the drop bags:

I know, right?  Spring Thaw my frostbitten foot.  Actually, the weather wasn't too bad.  It was in the 30s and sunny, so very comfortable for running.