The Science of Running: Running and Depression

I'm starting my series on the Science of Running in scientific areas I'm more comfortable with. My research background is all Psychology and Neuroscience, so it seems pretty fitting. Now, mental health is a really difficult area. I am not in any way suggesting that a mental health disorder recovery is as easy as, 'just go a jog'. Mental health disorders are serious and debilitating and the research into them is totally fascinating. Today I'm just looking at just one research article connecting the two, and noting how it might actually work in plain English. I've deliberately chosen one that you won't see Runner's World commenting on, and that is hard to read for those not in science. I spotted it recently, and thought it was a really interesting approach. 

The paper I looked at was 'Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression' (2014) by Agudelo and colleagues. The lead researcher is Jorge L. Ruas who works at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. See, that's a mouthful of a title. This is why no one apart from researchers, and their pals, ever read research articles. Ridiculous.

Okay so to clear up a few things in the title: the 'Kynurenine Metabolism' is a chemical pathway in the body, which can be activated by stress. It produces NAD+, an enzyme. This is manufactured from Tryptophan, an amino acid. NAD+ is involved the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another; the release of energy from nutrients; and as a novel neurotransmitter to communicate from nerves to effector cells in smooth muscle organs. Skeletal muscle-PGC-1α1 is a protein gene which mediates that pathway. Still with me?

In any human or mouse, exercise activates this Kynurenine Metabolism pathway, enhancing the conversion of Kynurenine to Kynurenic acid. Several of these Kynurenine outputs are associated with depression (higher levels of these = more likely to have depression). This mediation by exercise reduces Kynurenine plasma, and protects the brain from stress (as Kynurenine acid can't cross the blood brain barrier, but plasma could) and therefore has positive effects by reducing plasma-based brain change. So the importance is more acid, less other Kynurenine. PGC-1α1 also increases in skeletal muscle during exercise, so there is a dual effect of activation of the protein through exercise, and increase with muscle from consistent exercise.

So, more Kynurenine acid = better for your brain than Kynurenine plasma. 

To test this relationship, they then create mice that have more expression of the protein gene biologically. They find that these mice are resilient to stress-induced depression, as the gene induces Kynurenine Metabolism pathway expression - proof that the expression and creation of the acid has an effect on depression without the exercise. This is important because it proves causality in this pathway, not just correlation of the pathway activity and reduced depression chemicals. It also shows that PGC-1 α 1 controls plasma and the brain Kynurenine/Kynurenic acid balance. These mice are even resistant to straight injections of Kynurenine plasma

In layman's terms the muscles begin to act like the liver or kidneys and produce an enzyme, through this metabolic pathway, which clears out Kynurenine plasma linked to depression (by prioritizing the acid instead). There are a few caveats- this is tested in mouse stress induced depression (putting mice in a highly stressful environment and recording behavioural and stress hormone change). Whilst there are still parallels to human stress and depression (anxious environmental factors or high stress life events), there are some facets of clinical depression this does not mirror (day to day pervasive symptoms). Therefore take with consideration. However, stress is firmly linked to depression now, as inflammatory stress pathways modulate glutamate (a neurotransmitter) plasticity and transmission (both of which are very central to depression). The Kynurenine compounds mentioned also mediate glutamate and inflammatory circuits, probably in a negative way in the brain. So with more  Kynurenine acid compared to Kynurenine plasma, there is less effect on brain glutamate. 

Its fascinating how many things are going on inside us. We are a crazy mix of chemical relationships. On your next run, how about you have a think about your Kynurenine Metabolism?

If you are interested in running and mental health, check out this documentary footage of Simon Lamb bravely discussing his own issues with mental health and how running helped. He's amazing.


Have you ever been effected by issues of mental health in your running? No pressure to share obviously!

How was this to read, too techy? Too simplified?

Please note if anything in the above is incorrect, I'd love to hear about it, I'm keen to learn :-) Physiological Pharmacology, whilst connected, isn't my exact area. 


DIY Training Day/Weekend

So, every year my running club does a training weekend, somewhere in the beautiful wilds of Scotland. It's usually a lovely mix of actual training, meeting new people, and ... a bit of a piss up. Training volume for the weekend definitely varies person to person...

This year I couldn't go. So yesterday, when dogsitting for my aunt, I decided to DIY my own 'training weekend' day. Ideally I was aiming for a slightly healthier emphasis than the club one. So here's what I did:

Get Out of Your Normal Environment

You can't do this at home, sorry. You'll end up putting on a wash and fiddling with those clothes you meant to send to the charity shop and looking up that thing on the internet that you heard about. No. You'll also just run your tired old route, or go to your normal gym class. No. That's just your usual life, this is getting out of that.

So call in favours, look after someones house like I did, or go crash with someone you love. Last year I had an awesome DIY training weekend out at a friend's parent's farm. Rolling hills for miles. You don't need to be rural though, where I was isn't and I found gorgeous places to run fast; it'll just take a tad more research.

Eat da Healthy Stuff

C'mon, you knew this was going to be in there. Eat the good stuff, treat yourself a little with some luxury-style health foods and some expensive dark chocolate. You will feel 600 times better; 756 times smugger and inexplicably svelte by the end of the weekend, despite looking precisely the same as before to everyone else.

I ate porridge and fruit breakfast; and lunch of fish and soup. Though, as good health is a sound body and also a sound mind, we also had some takeout curry at night. Health is all about balance, right? Tasty, tasty balance.

Mmmm, balance.
Multiply Exercise per Day

Whereas you may only do one thing per day at home, recreate the fitness camp atmosphere by doing a few. I ran on the most gorgeous trails and also did a Nike Training Club workout (have the app on my phone!) and some yoga.

Seriously though, look at this. I almost forgot I was running it was so damned pretty. I also saw no one, has the zombie invasion started and I haven't noticed?

Brilliant place names

Ooh whats this?

The view from those windows

Work in Recovery

This overall idea is meant to be fun, so take some chill time in your DIY weekend too. At night I did 20 mins of the yoga for runners session from the Sweaty Betty online community then was aiming to sink into a bad boy of a bath for a few hours. Great for the tired muscles (and for the smell from 3 workouts...). However, it was not to be as I couldn't work out my aunt's taps! Luckily for all those in smelling distance, I got my bath this morning.

I also relaxed a lot whilst walking my little charge for the weekend. He doesn't go far as he's quite old, but he loves a quiet wander.Sadly today I have a lot of work to do then have to go home! So this was a one day only 'training camp' for me. I did do some reading on Saturday, but I badly needed that day spent on trails and relaxing and eating well.

In other news I'm going to chuck the Sunday Summary in here too; this week I've done Monday Supercircuits - an extra hard class with burpees in-between every station; ran 3mi with 5 fast hill sprints and 1 long hard hill sprint on Wednesday; did Kettlebells on Thursday with high weights; ran 3 miles, did NTC and Yoga on Saturday; and today will do a 5 mile run. Phew. No wonder dem quads hurt.


Have you ever DIY-ed a fitness weekend or getaway? 

PS: Pretty excited to note that Sweaty Betty is opening a store in Glasgow's Royal Exchange next Friday. I plan on writing more about this early in the week, so keep an eye out!


Great Scottish Run 10K 2014

Honestly? I don't much want to write about the GSR. It went okay. I'm unfit but not quite as bad as I thought. I did have a complete comedy of errors: from leaving my running shoes in my office, to wearing my chafe-tastic shorts, to forgetting my timing chip entirely (yeah, yeah Scallywag, bet that's what all the slowpokes say...). But I shall force myself to talk about it. Because if you like Glasgow and wan't to have a right good gawp at her, this race is a good un'.

Firstly it really does have an awesome course, especially the half marathon which does the awesome circuit of the city centre and motorway bridges, the parks further out and the Clydeside. The 10K is a little less pretty, as the section in the middle skips the too-far parks by running through some rather more uninspiring scenes before jumping back onto the river. However, for both races you get to:

  1. Stare up the imposing sight of St Vincent's Street hill, immediately at the start of the race. Suddenly need to pee ten times more than a second ago, even though you just used a portoloo. 
  2. Run over the motorway bridges, pretending you are a car (with comedy vroom noises), with no real threat of actual cars getting in the way (no? Just me?).
  3. Run over the beauty above, which you may remember from a previous post of mine on the Clydeside bridges. Bonus that its near the end so a good landmark for having only a little while left to go. 
  4. Start in the historic George Square, beside a lot of pretty old things and some lions. Continue up the aforementioned hill, that also has a lot of nice old bits. Basically instead of looking up the hill, look to the side to the crowds or to the nice buildings.
  5. Finish in Glasgow Green, which for the purpose of this event looks like a running parade. 

Good Things

+ Starting corrals well sized, marked and policed- you can go back but not forward. Never. ever. forward.

+ Believe when they say there are quieter toilets in the corrals. There are. Don't use the George Square ones. The George Square ones are for all those non-running peasants.

+ Great course- you get to run on motorway bridges and by the river and lots of nice parks if you do the half marathon.

+ Adequate water stations, and a shower if you like that kind of thing. I believe there are gels given in the half too.

+ Nice medal, nice tee shirt, although it stings that you only get a technical tee by paying more when the race is already £25 quid. Impressed by healthy-ish food in the finishing bag too.

+ Nice finishing chute- lots of encouragement.

Bad Things

- Bit expensive. I may however be quite spoilt by paying £5 for student 10Ks...

- You cannot spot a soul, way big crowds. I watched the whole half start, knew over 20 people in it and saw 1. My sincere apologies for the dude in the GUHH vest I yelled at, I know we don't know each other, but I needed someone to root for.

- The organisers announced GUHH had won the uni competition, and we were very excited until we all went quiet at the same time, did the maths, and realised Edinburgh had. Damnit. But congrats to our Hairy-er Hairy cousins (we're both Hares and Hounds, its an old joke). 

On that note, the evening before the race I'd said to my S.O., 'Nah don't bother spectating, you'd see me for 5 minutes, I'm not bothered'. Then I finished, and saw people screaming for their family members in the finishing chute, and saw loads of people hugging, and people waiting to get their Bank of Scotland photos, and I was actually bothered. 

So, next time I will be bringing my entire dallas-cheerleader-style fan squad. I'll just need to alert them by email or something...

So I went home and put on my medal and tee shirt and made him take photos of me instead:

Unsure why it looks like I have a uni-thigh here, it is in fact two seperate and quite far apart thighs. *


Ever done the GSR?

Or raced in good old Glasgow town? 

* Spoiler, secretly a merperson with only one lower limb. Makes 10K much more impressive, must start telling people.


Race Planning for 2014/2015

On Sunday I did the Great Scottish Run 10K. I intend to post properly about it ASAP but it wen't pretty much as well as I expected and I was pretty slow, though not as slow as at the women's run I did in May.

So, I have had a controversial thought... Maybe if i want to perform well at races, I could prepare specifically for those actual races?!


So, without further ado, here's a list of races I actually plan to do well (for me) at:

The Race: Braids Hill Race, 15 November 2014, 3 miles-ish.
The Plan: Panic, hadn't realised this was actually this soon, pray to running gods. Nah, just kidding. I have 5 weeks. I prescribe 5 weeks worth of consistency, one hill session a week and healthy eating. Its the best I can do. It's more x-c than hills overall.

The Race: Glasgow Uni 5 Mile Road Race, 29 November 2014, 5 miles.
The Plan: Off of Braids semi-fitness (hopefully), run slightly longer to build up endurance. Run some more flat speedwork in two weeks lead up. Again, don't expect to be super fit but do the best I can.

The RaceBritish Universities Cross Country, 31 January 2015, 3 miles-ish.
The Plan: As long as I can keep up the running over Christmas, I expect to be in good shape here. I would be aiming to do more cross country and hill training over Dec and January, and hopefully bad weather won't interfere too much.

The Race: Grangemouth 10k (Scottish Student 10K Champs too), Easter weekend (or the one after that), April 2015, 6.2 miles.
The Plan: A couple of months general build up from previous two races, and an extra month of consistency, then start a already-planned 12-week build-up from January. I plan to be in pretty great shape for this race and hopefully return my 10K times to what they once were in mid to low 50s. I've always done badly at Grangemouth. We have unfinished business. From there I shoot for a later race for a sub 50. I haven't decided which yet but I welcome any ideas. I run best at scenic, slightly hilly (rolling ideally), quieter races.

The Race: Dumyat Hill Race, 7 May 2015, 4 miles-ish.
The Plan: After Grangemouth, keep up the fitness and longer running, and add in some more hill work to the table. Ideally work on actual hills, but will settle for hill reps.

Any others of interest around? I don't plan on going any longer than 10K in goal races because I just simply don't have the time right now. As a result my training is planned in my work diary up until April. We will see if I'll stick to it mind!


Sunday Summary w/b 25/08/14

At any time, you can see what I have planned for the week above on the diary tab, but I'm also aiming to summarise on Sundays. This week I did the following:

Monday: Kettlebells, went up a weight and really felt the effects on Tuesday. Nice that I could go up, and really shows the need to do lots of variation in workouts- boxing for example hasn't recently been really taxing. However just one session of Kettlebells, which I haven't done in a while, and my arms are dying!
Tuesday: Ran 3 and a bit miles. Recovery, very slow and some walk breaks as my body was done after Kettlebells. I knew my arms were dead, but as soon as I started, I realised my legs were too! At least I fitted it in.
Wednesday: Meta Box was fun and had some pretty hardcore arm work in it- a ton of hard boxing against a mighty dude (genuinely suspect his hook could have my head off if he miss-aimed) and a lot of push up and planking work.
Thursday: Did park fitness. Knackering. Roughly 2 miles of hard running. Did not do another run. Failllllllllll. I was toast.
Friday: Went climbing. Twas okay. Feel like I will maybe need two sessions a week to see any real improvement though!
Saturday: rest day.
Sunday: unplanned rest. Knackered. Demotivated. Burnt out from other things too. Means only one actual run this week. Tragic.

I'm hoping Canada can bring back some of my running love- I'm just not there at the moment at all. Any tips for properly getting back into it? For demotivation?


What did you do this week? (exercise or life chat wise)