Monthly Archives: December 2009

Night Snowshoeing in the Keweenaw

Some of our good friends, T and D, came to town post-Christmas to enjoy the Keweenaw and have a bit of a vacation. Baberaham and I convinced them to join us on an evening snowshoe hike to explore Hungarian Falls in Tamarack City during the full moon. I thought this would be a great time to try out my new camera (the Lumix TS1) and take the Core Concepts gear out for another trial.

Unfortunately while we were gone for the holidays, the Keweenaw (and the state of Michigan in general) was coated in a nice sheet of ice from the freezing rain on Christmas Day. The snow was still in great shape, though, and although the trail was tracked out at times, it was a beautiful night and we barely needed to use our headlamps. The Falls weren’t yet ready for ice climbing, but the icecicles were massive and the falls were slushy.

It was a coooold night. The damp air made the breeze feel like it went right through us, and the temperatures dropped after the sun set because of the low cloud cover. I was pretty darn cold at first, but I was wearing two ‘active’ layers (my Brooks HVAC and a Craft poly) and my Core Concepts Double Shot jacket; I had on a pair of long underwear (Marmot) and my PowderPlay Bibs too. The bibs were quite nice at keeping my core warm and keeping the snow out. I didn’t wear the skirt to my Double Shot jacket because I forgot to reattach it before we left, but I didn’t need it! The bibs underneath worked great. And once I got moving, I was the perfect temperature. D was a bit sweaty and uncomfortable, and said he wished he had not worn so many layers…

It was eery walking around in the woods with the clouds moving over the full moon. It would be dark, then bright, then dark again. The sky was a red glow, which was captured beautifully with my Starry Nights feature on the Lumix (15sec exposure):

I still need to work on perfecting the use of the Lumix (hey, I’ve only used it twice!) but I foresee it being a stellar outdoors camera. Unfortunately I don’t have a steady hand and didn’t bring along a tripod, otherwise I’d have had some photos of the full moon and stars (the ones I took were pretty messy).

When I got home and took off my jacket and bibs, I was impressed that I wasn’t sweaty and damp. The breathability of the jacket and bibs after two hours of tromping around the woods was quite a nice feature. It got methinking about a new adventure to plan for the next full moon!! …Stay tuned.

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Say Yah to da UP, from Downstate

Over my short break at home with family, I spent an evening making gluten-free cut-out cookies. My mom’s kitchen is the best place for this, because she has so much cookie-makin’ real estate in terms of counterspace. I grabbed the only bag of gluten free flour in the house (Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice flour), found a recipe online, and pulled the butter out of the fridge. Then I realized that the recipe called for xantham gum, and on Christmas Day, I knew I’d have a hard time finding that anywhere. Luckily, my mom’s awesome Google-ing skills found me a xantham gum-free recipe, and it only called for rice flour*! Double bonus.

Here’s the recipe for about 6 dozen cookies!:

  • 4.5 cups of rice flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 cup butter
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1.5 cup sugar

Beat together butter and sugar, then beat in eggs. Mix the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and form dough. Refrigerate for an hour or so, and then flour clean countertop and rolling pin with rice flour (or cornstarch). Roll out dough and cut out cookies! Bake at 350F on a non-stick cookie sheet for 8-10minutes or until edges are brown.

I used cornstarch to ‘flour’ my rolling pin and countertop, because I made a 1.5batches of cookie dough and subsequently ran out of rice flour. It worked great though!

I definitely represented with this batch of cookies. I brought along my copper cookie cutter on the trip, and had a little piece of heaven with me to share.

The Upper Peninsula was definitely on my map on Christmas Day. Say yah to da UP, eh?

*gluten-free baked goods typically use flour mixes, such as Featherlight (rice and tapioca flours with potato starch), which makes the flour more like the ‘real thing’

Early Christmas!

Lucky me, I have an incredible boyfriend with an incredible family. Not only did I get a sweet workout get-up from Soma from my boyfriend’s parents (and a lot of other really cool things including underwear and a handmade ceramic ornament!), I got to spend time with the “whole family” all together: my boyfriend, my parents, his parents, and the dogs. Talk about a most excellent time.

On the drive home (the good ol’ 10 hours of it), I totally guessed the gift that Baberaham got me (he gave it away with ‘smaller than a toaster’ and ‘electronic’, and the fact that he intentionally dropped my Sony digital camera in the snow while skiing a few weeks ago because I asked him not to!). I didn’t know what specific kind he got though, so I was super excited to see that he got me a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1 camera (translation: tough camera). It can be dropped 5ft and submerged under 10ft of water (for 60min) without anything bad happening to it! Sweet. Sounds perfect for my clutzy self.

Funny thing is: His present from me was also a digital camera- the Olympus TOUGH 8000.

So now that we each have a tough camera, we are BATTLING!

Which camera owner is more lucky?

The Lumix:

  • Shockproof (5ft)
  • Waterproof (10ft)
  • Intelligent auto-mode (ie. ridiculous image capture regardless of photographer/subject movement)
  • 12.1Megapixels
  • 4.6x optical zoom
  • High ISO
  • Wide angle lens
  • HD video!

The Olympus TOUGH 8000:

  • Shockproof (6.6ft)
  • Waterproof (33ft)
  • Freezeproof (-10C)
  • Crush-proof (220lbf)
  • Dual image stabilization
  • 12Megapixels
  • 3.6x optical zoom

Only time will tell.

We debated sending one back and sharing the other… but then vetoed that because each camera has its own qualities that we’ll benefit from (and we both are gear geeks). The Lumix has HD video, so expect to see more awesome Youtube/Vimeos on my blog! And the Olympus Tough is, well… more tought than the Lumix, so Baberaham can take it climbing and not feel so bad if he drops it halfway up a pitch.

I’m really excited to use these! Will keep ya’ll in the loop about the functionality of each. If you have one of these, let me know what your favorite features are!

Winter running tips… continued!

So I have been on a big winter-running-kick, probably because I am trying to get in 100 runs in 100 days in the Slowtwitch competition (see the ST button on the right side of my site?). So you can imagine my excitement today when I had not one, but two boxes at my doorstep. I knew they weren’t my holiday presents from Baberaham, because he had those shipped to his parents downstate. They could be nothing other than my winter trainers and my Nathan goodies!

To start off, I was so excited to open my new Nathan arm warmers and see that they were in fact silver, not white (as they look in the catalog). Awesome! Reflective, leotard-ish material, very snug. They even make me look a little buff! They are a great price, too, retailing under $25.

As a member of Brooks Inspire Daily, I was allowed to order Brooks gear for not just myself, but for anyone else on my shopping list- but only for the month of December (ish). A few weeks ago, I put in one last order for some Brooks goods before I rescinded my renewal application to the Brooks ID program (sad day).

So, since I could order stuff for fam and friends, and since I’ve recently converted Baberaham to both running and a Brooks-geekdom, I put in for a pair of size 10.5 Launch. He loves these shoes. Not only do they look fast, but he would argue that they are the most comfortable running shoes he’s ever had. Did I mention they look fast? Because of his knee instability, and his distaste for running in the cold, he sticks to the ‘mill, but as many of ya’ll know- the snow doesn’t stop me! So I ordered a pair of the ASRs to replace my used-and-abused La Sportiva Imogenes that I got in 2007 (yes. I know. tsk tsk).

The Adrenaline ASRs are a pretty sweet shoe. They are basically the Adrenalines, but with a waterproof upper, tread, and some sweet tongue designs. Snowflakes on shoes? Love it! My Imogenes were in grave need of replacing, even though the Sticky Soles held up really well!! Those were a great pair of shoes.I’m really excited to try out the ASRs. I’m looking forward to running the gamut of winter running shoes, because I’m super stoked to try out the Saucony shoes with gaitors (that will be later in the season, though). These new shoes got me thinking…

How do you tie your laces? I seem to remember an article somewhere (maybe Runner’s World?) that asked that question, but I honestly don’t remember reading the article or hearing anyone’s thoughts on the topic. I’ve tied my shoes the same way for the last ten years. I learned it from a physical therapist my dad had. She taught me it to keep me from needing to stop and tie my shoe during a run (or lose my shoe during a race!). It’s a sweet style, and I’m sharing it with you today.

First– [below] use the lace holes most posterior on the shoe. Go into the most posterior one first, from the inside of the shoe, and then make a ‘loop’ into the second-most posterior hole (coming into the second-farthest hole from the outside of the shoe). Do this for both sides. You’ll see why this is important later.

Second[below] Take the free end of the lace from the left side and thread it through the loop on the right. Do the same for the free lace from the right side. Of course, your foot can be in the shoe at this point, but it doesn’t need to be. After this second step, though- make sure your foot gets comfy in there πŸ˜€

Third!- Pull the free ends straight out (medially and laterally) to tighten down the loops.

Fourth and final step: Tie your shoe like you normally would- however you were taught as a kid! You can double knot your shoes, too. That always adds extra protection from loose laces.

The coolest thing about this lacing system is that its free. Ok, maybe that’s not the coolest thing, but that is pretty rad. The best thing about it, seriously, is that the laces won’t come loose, even if your shoe gets untied. Because the laces are threaded into the holes near the ankle, even if the bunny-hopping-through-the-forest tie job you did comes loose, the shoe probably won’t fall off because the laces will stay tight. I especially like this lacing system for trail shoes (there are enough obstacles in the way out there) and it also keeps my shoe more in line with my foot. I am definitely in the biomechanics-school-of-running, where I know I need a stability shoe because I know my feet overpronate. I want to get the most support out of my shoe as I need, and this lacing system helps make that happen. By keeping the shoe snug to my foot, I don’t get as much motion, rarely ever get a blister (unless I’m going sockless), and I may even get more life out of my shoe (I’m using the entire shoe, not just the sole; stress distribution, anyone?). So give it a try. If you don’t like it, that’s cool. Let me know!

As a side note, I’m going to try out my new Nathan Storm hydration pack tonight on the trails. Cross-country skiing must-have, especially if rocking the waxable classic skis. Here’s a sneak peak:

Core Concepts winter gear review

Ever want to shout “Oh, oh, you don’t even know!” to someone? That’s kind of how I feel about the whole #snOMG extravaganza going on east-ward on the Atlantic Coast. [For those that don’t speak Twitter, the hashtag (#) indicates a ‘trending topic’ and snOMG is a reference to the crazy awesome ‘oh-my-gosh’ snowstorm that recently hit the East Coast.]

I feel like I can wave my MegaTough flag for this one, because Houghton rarely ever gets on the news when we get a foot or two of snowfall. That’s because it happens all-the-time. Every winter, we can expect at least one, probably more like five, snowstorms that will strike us. It’s one of those “ain’t no thang” mentalities, though. You get so used to snow, that it’s not a big deal to park your car in a snow bank when you’re rolling down Agate Street. It’s what I call “Yooper braking”- Stop signs are optional, it pays to have a manual transmission, and you’re insane if your car doesn’t have snow tires. Anyway, I digress.

If you live in the Keweenaw, where there aren’t any malls within a 100mile radius, and no one knows what Vera Wang does for a living (but everyone has stock in Cabelas), you learn to live the Yooper life. You do what you can to stay warm, and that’s about it. No time to be trendy (and I don’t “do” fur, thankyouverymuch). The running joke of the college kids up here is: “Man, I don’t want to go home [to the metro-area], because I can’t wear a hooded sweatshirt and thermal underwear to the bar!” I’d argue that people leaving the UP have issues with re-mingling into society [kind of like how people who are released from prison have a hard time…]. I own a pair of camo bib coveralls, a winter coat that has a built-in ammunition belt, and the thickest wool socks you’ve ever seen. So when I stumbled across Core Concepts through Sonja‘s blog, I was… intrigued.

The claim to fame at Core Concepts is that they make “top notch performance outdoor layers that function no matter what you’re up to – double black, single track or a quick run at lunch.” Designed for multi-sport, multi-climate and 100% capable. Shah! Like that’s possible. So I thought. I asked the very friendly folks on the west-coast if they’d like a field tester in the Great Lakes region- someone who would use-and-abuse their gear in the extreme seasons of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That someone was me, of course. I love new gear. I also love trying to ruin new gear (whether intentional or not). I received a big box chock full of awesome gear, and wanted to head out right away to test its limits.

So yesterday, Adam and I went galavanting around the Keweenaw to find some last-minute gifts for the special people in our lives. We were not very successful. However, we did venture to The Lake to see how the ice was shaping up, and to try out my new gear.

We stopped at Great Sand Bay to hike around a bit. The temperatures by The Lake were a good fifteen degrees lower than in town, and that may have been even colder with wind chill. It was blustery. But the freezing rain didn’t stop me! I pulled on my new Powder Play bibs and buttoned them up. These are my first-ever pair of “snowshoeing” (ie active-wear) bibs I’ve owned. [I have a pair of hunting bibs, but they are definitely men’s, superlong, superbaggy, and camo. Not the most stylish, but I suppose I fit in with Yoopers when I’m wearing ’em.] Regardless, I am trying to revamp my outdoors style, so the Powder Play bibs were nice. Next time, I’m putting them on before I leave the warmth of my apartment, though. I also donned my Core Concepts Double Shot jacket [which received mega-compliments since I got it] and braved the winds.

I was impressed with how well the bibs fit. It was almost as if the Core Concepts designer got my torso measurements and designed the bibs around me. The pant legs were a little short, but the bib comes with a built-in gaitor that hugs the boot. Next time I head out, I’m wearing my taller boots so that the gaitor and boot make a better barrier.

I should explain the other pair of bib overalls I own. These were purchased as a gift from my dad when I was in middle school, so I could enjoy going hunting with freezing my buns off. They droop and sag and if I’m just wearing the bibs, I am guaranteed to get snow infiltration. Not the best. The Powder Play bibs were so well fitted that I’d be hard-pressed to get any snow inside them. Awesome!

The jacket was definitely wind-stoppable. Both the bibs and the jacket are made with Core Concepts “Shelter Stretch”- which is a three-layer fabric for active cold weather use. Waterproof (20K) and breathable (15K). The zipper for the jacket is protected with a button-over flap to keep water out, too (and the zipper is pretty robust itself).

I received a jacket, bibs, and shirt from Core Concepts on Thursday. I was super geeked to open the box from Idaho and see all the cool stuff inside, but was definitely worried about the cream colored coat. I don’t do white well. I am a dirty, messy, clumsy girl. I swore that I’d spill coffee on it right away and ruin it forever. But, interestingly enough, four days later, it still looks clean. Hmm… something’s not right…

So, after the hike-around, I came home and decided to make a little video to “test” the waterproofability of the jacket. Of course, being the clutz that I am, I wanted to test it with something I knew it would come in contact with eventually: Coffee. Check it out:

So far, I’ve gone for two runs, a hike, and attended a holiday party with my Core Concepts Sprint Crew top. And I haven’t washed it yet. I took the tags off and put it on. It really hasn’t left my skin. But, it doesn’t even stink yet! Three days, no stank… that’s pretty good in my book. But I’m not giving up on it yet.

I’m taking the whole kit-and-caboodle out for a ski tomorrow. I’ve never worn bib coveralls to go skiing, so it should be interesting!

I’m leaning towards the side of “I love this gear.” There are a few modifications that I’d need to make in order for it to be absolutely perfect for me, like the length of the Sprint Crew sleeves (they’re a little too short for me, so I don’t get to utilize the thumbies. I love shirts with thumbies!), and the length of the pant (also a little short). The length of pant is a double-edged sword. I don’t want them to be too short, or else snow will sneak into my boot. But, if they are too long, then the bottoms get all icky when I’m walking around town and the sidewalks are covered in slushy snow! So, there’s got to be a good balance. Who knows, maybe these bibs have it. I’ll have to test them more to find out for sure.Β  I am also going to do some in-house modifications when I am at my mom’s over break. I will make sure to post any alterations on here for ya’ll to see!

The best thing about Core Concepts is the incredible functionality of their stuff. They do stuff differently. My shirt, for example, turns into a ‘fanny-pack’ if I don’t want to wear it anymore. No more tying the shirt around my waist by its sleeves! The coat is super cute. I would totally still buy it if I were a business professional and had to wear dress clothes to work every day (by the way, I don’t have to wear dress clothes to work everyday). But, the fact that the coat is windproof, waterproof and breathable means that I can be fashionable and live in the UP at the same time. Never thought that was possible. Seriously. When I was an undergrad, I had a hideous camo green down coat (made by Cabelas) that went down to my knees, and (of course) had those camo-hunting bibs. Now I actually look posh. Maybe I will be bringing sexy back afterall… to the Yoop.

*Luckily, the residents of the UP are blessed with an amazing taskforce of snow removal personnel. At all hours of the night, you can count on hearing the beep-beep-beeps of the dump trucks (yes, dump trucks) as they fill their back ends with snow. The road commissions up here know their stuff!

Quick shout out…

Hey, folks! My bloggy-friend and Trakkers teammate, Sonja, just posted a contest on her blog!

Head on over there to enter in the raffle for some free Ritter chocolate! She has a LOT of chocolate to give away. Mmmm… Speaking of chocolate. I’m going to head to Jim’s Foodmart right now to buy some! Happy trails!

What not to wear.

I headed out on an afternoon (evening? nighttime?) easy distance run with Margot today, and was running a little late. I threw on a pair of tights (not sissy tights, CWX Stabilyx Insulator tights), my Vapor Dry hoody, and my Icebreaker hat. I wore my ol’ standby gloves (the nylon/poly/cotton el cheapo’s) and threw on my trail runners.

I couldn’t find my running jacket (that doubles as a garbage bag), so I grabbed my fleece vest and headed out the door. Brr. As soon as I stepped out of my apartment, I thought: “hmm. I should go grab another layer.”

But I didn’t. I was meeting Margot at 5:10pm, and I forgot to wear a watch to remind me. I ran down Huron Street toward Chutes and Ladders, where we were meeting up. She was running a little late, so I jogged back and forth in front of the park, and the uphill climb to MI26 warmed me up a little. I saw her rambling down the hill toward me and we took off eastbound.

The run was uneventful. My shoes had great traction, even though I could see the exposed ice in the middle of each lane. Traffic wasn’t too bad, although I almost got swiped by a Jeep and couldn’t see very well once the sun set and car lights were shining us head-on. My stomach got a little grumbly but we were going at an easy pace, so I didn’t complain. Margot warned me that her toes were a little chilly and she may have to turn back early if they didn’t warm up, but we kept motoring along.

Then it started to get colder. I should have known it would, because the sky wasn’t capped with clouds and the stars were shining bright. Stars = cold [as a side note: One of the things I love most about the Keweenaw is the lack of light pollution and the ability to see the Milky Way on any clear night]. Anyway, we rolled around the east side of town for a bit, through Daniel Heights and Portage/Mill Road. We talked about adventures, trips, fun future megatough stuff. Then it got a tinge colder, and my fingers started to feel the bite. Weirder still, my elbows got cold.

I could see frosty glimmers of Margot’s hair popping out from under her hat, and it looked like streaks of gray mixed with her dark brown hair. That was pretty cool. Little ice chunks started forming on our faces, and we struggled to hold an understandable conversation. I tried to warm up my fingers by hooking them into my shirt’s built-in “mittens”- and that actually helped. But the elbows… What do I do about the elbows?!

We chatted about a trip to the sauna, and lamented about how we can’t use the one at the SDC (our uni’s gym) for the next few weeks. We tried to think warm thoughts; she told me about her chocolate of the month club and I told her about coffee. We headed back towards West Houghton and I swear the temperature dropped even more. We went past the bank and it read 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes! Time to get home.

The run ended and I climbed the stairs to my apartment as fast as anyone could with numb legs and frozen fingers.Β  I sat at my kitchen table until the frost dripped from my face and my elbows could make more than a 90 degree bend. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better shower. Follow that up with some spaghetti and Trigger Point quadballing, and you’ve got yourself a great recovery. Now, I’m bundled up in a long sleeve shirt and jogging pants, and those fluffy soft slipper socks that are so completely impractical [except when you are not planning on leaving your apartment for the rest of the night].

Lessons I’ve learned today:

  • Just because you live and breathe the U.P., doesn’t mean you can go outside in the winter time with just a long sleeve and a vest on. Especially when its 16F when you start.
  • Don’t eat a bowl of pumpkin oats within half an hour of running for two hours.
  • You probably can get frostbite on your elbows. So don’t risk it!
  • El Cheapo gloves are not always the best for a cold evening run. Shoulda wore my snowboarding mittens!!!

Interesting Fact of the Day:

Sauna, pronounced “SOW nuh”, is a Finnish tradition of placing water on very hot rocks in a small, enclosed room to create a “steam room” (it can also be used sans water to make just a HOT room). Trust me, it is the best post-winter run/ski/snowshoe/outdoor activity treat you can have. I don’t like sweating a lot or being too hot, which is ironic because I LOVE being in a sauna.

Ahh, snow.

The weather this week was interesting. Apparently, the UP received the “storm of the century”- but I don’t remember it being all THAT bad. Sure, there was snow. Lots of snow. And wind, can’t forget that. It was cold, it was icy, and most importantly- it was snowy! I love snow.

It was nice to get dumped on. We went from having no snow, to having blankets of the white fluffy stuff. YAY! That to me means cross-country skiing, trail shoes, and snowshoeing.

It wasn’t all smiles and laughs, though. Seriously, it snowed for six days straight. It really never stopped. If it did stop, you couldn’t tell, because the wind was whirring up the snow that had fallen earier. It was definitely winter parka weather.

It was miserable walking home from campus, but it was better than having to scrape off seven inches of snow after being parked for a few hours.

It was totally worth getting out and doing stuff! Yesterday, I went for an early-morning jog around Houghotn, and it was nice to get the glow of street lights reflecting off the snow. Holiday decorations were out and people were up and at’em, shoveling and snowblowing their driveways. The coolest thing was probably the army of snowplows on Montezuma I saw as I headed up Bridge Street. One after the other charging through the snow, lining up piles of snow in the middle of the busiest street in the Keweenaw. So cool. I definitely had to head out prepared, though. I wore my headlamp and several layers! Get ready to get cold, girlfriend!

Today was absolutely beautiful. The Michigan Tech Huskies had their season opener for Nordic. Sure, it was a little squeaky and sticky for skate, but my kick today was awesome (I classical skied… ).

Adam and I tried out our new headgear that we bought from Sauce (formerly SOS headgear), which was started by a friend of mine and current professional skier, Shayla Swanson (Canada National Team). I met Shayla when I lived in Bozeman [she was roommies with my girl, Karin C.]. Both girls are kick-ass skiers. I love that Shayla sells these hats as a way to represent the ski community and support herself financially. Seriously, it’s really hard to find a perfect hat for xc-skiing (or running, for that matter). Some are way too warm for aerobic activities, some are not wind resistant at all, and some just sorta inch their way off your melon as you move around. The Sauce hats (like the Swift Toque)  and headbands are sweet, because they are tight around the ears but not too tight, cover more surface area (ie. skin!) and they don’t leave you exposed to the elements. Plus, they hats are supa-styling. Mocha polka pattern looks soooo sweet [that’s the pattern I’ve got, pictured below]! I really like how easy these are to take care of, too. The tassel is removable, so I just pull a string and the top of the hat opens up and the tassel comes off. Way convenient for washing it, so I don’t have to worry about the tassel getting all gnarly in the washnig machine at the laundromat. Extra bonus.

So today, Adam and I just skied around on the trails after watching the men’s race finish. The trails were awesome, 24Km all packed and groomed.  I pulled something in my inner thigh while out on Portage loop, hopefully its nothing and I can get back out there tomorrow and get some more skiing in. I love to classic ski! Here’s a video of me out on core loop:


After I pulled my adductor or whatever I did, I dinked around behind Adam a bit and did some videography. Sorry if its a little bumpy, but you gotta see how awesome the trails look πŸ˜€ I loooove the UP.

That’s all I got for now! Get outside, folks! It’ll make you feel better πŸ˜€

Secondary arthritis: How does it start?

I’ve been posting a lot lately about all my athletic endeavors, and realized that I have been not incorporating updates about my academic life. Truth be told, the last month has left me feeling as if my research was just kind of hanging out on the back burner and my athleticism was taking over.

Luckily, I’m back in the lab, doing histology, acquiring samples, and even attempting to engineer some new drug delivery methods. Even though my research is in the field of engineering, it’s definitely driven by biology and fundamental molecular pathways of inflammation. I won’t get too far into that. What I will get into is the impact that my research will (hopefully) have on the general public. What am I referring to? Osteoarthritis, of course.

Recently, a fellow blogger friend of mine, a principle scientist at the University of Washington, posted this treat on his blog. I felt like he posted it just for me! Now, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but holy cripes, was I excited. It just piles on the motivation for me to get my publications wrapped up and shipped out! And then I was slightly disappointed (why wasn’t my collabo’s work featured in NYTs!? Are our university marketing departments slacking?!), but I’m still excited.

The NYT’s article is referring to a manuscript by Dr Chu’s group that was just published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in December of this year. In the study, the authors look at chondrocyte death in cartilage after blunt impaction to the bovine articular cartilage explants. The translational research from in vitro cow studies to real-life human injuries still needs to be made, by my collaborators and I have published several papers related to impaction-induced arthritis in a closed-joint traumatic model in the last year and a half [1,2,3]. We’ve even identified potential treatments! That’s exciting news.

So what’s the story? Basically, impaction-induced arthritis is fairly common, and can develop after a car accident (where the knee hits the dashboard) or a sports injury. Although the incident of injury is a specific time point that can be linked to joint degradation, the exact mechanism by which arthritis accelerates is what stimulates curiosity. You see, secondary osteoarthritis (OA) develops much faster than primary (age related) OA. Along with trauma, it can also be caused by obesity, genetic disorders, or joint malalignment. Instead of taking a lifetime to develop, it can be seen radiologically (ie. x-ray) within the first few years, especially following traumatic injury such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture. In fact, histological changes to the cartilage* have been found within a year following injury [4]. How does trauma accelerate cartilage degradation so much? What factors are involved, and how can we slow it down and prevent it? There are so many factors that are not well understood. Take for example ACL repair. If a soccer player tears their ACL, they will probably have it fixed because it is well understood that abnormal loading in the knee will lead to arthritic changes to the cartilage. Why, then, ten years later, does that soccer player still get OA? The answers are not yet known.

*Before I get too far in, though, I should probably explain the anatomy of the knee a bit. The long bones of the leg are covered at the ends with something called cartilage (I’m sure most of you have heard of this, yeah?). The picture to the right is a pig’s knee, the tibial plateau to be exact. Imagine looking at your shank from the top-down. That’s what it would look like if your femur and ligaments (ACL, pcl, mcl, lcl) were no longer intact and your shank was removed from your body (and my hands, with the blue gloves, were holding it). Cartilage, outlined in the red hash line to the right, actually covers the entire tibial plateau, even under those yellow-outlined rubbery looking tissues (which are the menisci).  The meniscus attaches to the tibial plateau and is super important, because it helps protect the cartilage underneath, and distributes loads during walking, running and jumping. It’s like a shock absorber for the knee.

Another key player in knee joint health is the ACL (the nub of which is outlined in blue). The ACL prevents the tibia from moving forward during walking, running and jumping. If it gets torn, then the knee joint stability goes all out of wack. Patients with torn ACLs can end up with meniscal tears, accelerated cartilage damage, and OA. That’s why so many people have their ACLs repaired.

In impaction-induced ACL rupture, the cartilage receives a single, high-energy impact during compression. The cartilage isn’t used to this type of behavior, because it typically doesn’t see such high energy levels, thanks in part to the meniscus (and avoidance of these types of injuries). But when the cartilage does see the high, fast compression, it doesn’t really know what to do. Because the cartilage is made up of a bunch of cells called chondrocytes (surrounded by matrix called collagen), the cells may go into something called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, or necrosis (premature death, or suicide). In necrosis, cells release a bunch of signals that say “HELP! DANGER” and then they die, and obviously can no longer perform their roles as chondrocytes. [There’s another word, called chondroptosis, but that may be too far for this blog.] Anyway, necrotic triggers can be inflammatory markers, which can trigger a whole plethora of events, or macrophage recruiters, which eat up stuff (like dead cells!). In apoptosis, the cells just casually die, no signals, they just kinda fade into black, like a Metallica song.

So what does this mean? In impaction induced arthritis, it may mean that – regardless of whether or not the ACL rupture is fixed – the joint may be predisposed to OA no matter what. The cells initial signaling (if they are indeed going through necrosis) may open the whole can of worms. Not good news at all.  What can we do about it? We need to understand the whole system more. Maybe impaction isn’t the end-all and be-all that is traumatic OA. If I am out riding my snowmobile and bash my knee, I don’t want to be cursed with the impending OA [unfortunately, this story is something that happened to my boyfriend in 2008].

We need to understand the system better. We don’t know yet how chondrocytes really die after traumatic impaction, and we don’t know if they will be replaced by healthy, viable cells. So many questions are still out there. Does it really matter if the cells of the cartilage die? What’s the “threshold” for cartilage impaction magnitudes, before which chondrocytes stay alive? Are other tissues influenced by chondrocyte cell death, or the event of impaction for that matter?

We’re getting there, and researchers at Michigan State University have recently shown that certain molecules, called surfactants, can actually protect the chondrocytes before they are impacted and may even “cushion” them for the impending impact [1]. It’s almost like the surfactant wraps the cells in plastic bubble wrap. But is this a suitable treatment? What implications does it have on the rest of the joint (or does it go systemic and cause problems elsewhere?). Although cartilage is the main indicator for OA development and progression, my doctoral research is focusing on other soft tissues of the knee, namely the meniscus, to see how imp
action influences the viability and health of the other major players of knee joint health.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, we really don’t know why some people get secondary OA after traumatic impaction and some don’t. Right now, there are just so many confounding variables. And its important to remember that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Will my boyfriend get OA by the time he’s 35 because he did an Ironman a year out from tearing his PCL after hitting a tree? I don’t know. I hope not, but it’s possible. It’s possible that the injury did him in, or that the surgery itself to fix the PCL did more damage. Or, the opposite is true; maybe he’s better off because he started training for Ironman, because he ramped up his cycling training (cyclic shear-type loading on his knee), strengthened his quads, and worked on his stabilizing muscles. In truth, he’s stronger now than before he was injured. Anecdotal? Of course. Interesting? You bet.

That’s all I got for now!

–I should clarify that the work discussed in the NYT’s article was all in vitro work. The researchers took explants (biopsy punches) from cow knees (the cows were already dead, don’t worry) and then impacted them with a weight from different heights (which translated into different impaction energies). The impaction was directly applied to the surface of the explant. In the research I’m involved with (cited in this post), our impactions were applied to the closed-joint of the rabbit knee either immediately after the rabbit was killed or while it was anesthetized.. Other structures were influenced by impaction (muscle, bone, meniscus). It’s important to know the difference, because in Chu’s study, the impaction energy was much lower (1.07J) than the impaction energy we used (13J).

References

1. Isaac DI, Golenberg N, Haut RC. Acute repair of chondrocytes in the rabbit tibiofemoral joint following blunt impact using P188 surfactant and a preliminary investigation of its long-term efficacy. J Orth Res, 2009 Oct 29. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Killian ML, Isaac DI, Haut RC, Dejardin LM, Leetun D, Haut Donahue TL.Traumatic Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear and its Implications on Meniscal Degradation: A Preliminary Novel Lapine Osteoarthritis Model. J Surg Res, 2009 Apr 5. [Epub ahead of print]
3. Isaac DI, Meyer EG, Haut RC. Chondrocyte damage and contact pressures following impact on the rabbit tibiofemoral joint. J Biomech Eng, 2008 Aug;130(4):041018.
4. Nelson F, Billinghurst RC, Pidoux I, Reiner A, Langworthy M, McDermott M, Malogne T, Sitler DF, Kilambi NR, Lenczner E, Poole AR. Early post-traumatic osteoarthritis-like changes in human articular cartilage following rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament. OA &C. 2006 Feb;14(2):114-9. Epub 2005 Oct 20.

Mic check, one, two, THREE!

Checkin’ the mic.

Next summer, Rev3 is hosting not one, not two, but THREE triathlons east of the Mississippi. That’s pretty sweet. What’s even more sweet is that I can get you $10 off your registration at any of these events (and more than one, as well, I might add).So, you could save $30. That’s a new race top, or about 6 pairs of Yanx. Or like three pounds of good coffee!!! For me, it’s gas money to get to a race (ok, not really. I currently reside in a pretty podunk location…).

What else? All Rev3 races are super family friendly. As a kid growing up, I’d go with my family every time a new ride came out at Cedar Point. We’d wait in line for hours to ride the Demon Drop, my feet trembling and my heart pumping because I was so scared. My high school had field trips to Cedar Point in the summer, and I even got to go with my high school physics class [seriously, Cedar Point is probably where my love for engineering began].

So now that I’ve convinced you that you should race a Rev3, get your $10 discount! You can use it on any or all of these triathlons. The code is trakkers118

Live near Knoxville? Never been to World’s Fair Park? Do the Knoxville Rev3! There will be an Olympic and Half Rev on May 9th!
These pros will be there:
Matty Reed, Amanda and Michael Lovato*, Joanna Zieger, John Kelly, Florence Chretien, Dave Thompson [Midwest represent, wootwoot!], Rebecca Wasner, Leon Griffin, Kelly Williamson, Jordan Rapp(star), and Dede Griesbeier.

Middlebury, CT, will hold down the fort with the Quassy Rev3 in its second year. Trakkers-GPS will be there, offering real-time GPS tracking of athletes so family members can track them online (and watch them in on the big screen). There will be an Olympic and Half Rev on June 5th and 6th!
Look for these pros:
Mirinda Carfrae, Tim O’Donnell, Kirk Nelson, Leon Griffin, Tyler Lord, plus Reed, Lovatos, Zieger, Kelly, Chretien, Thompson, Wasner, Griffin, Williamson, and Rapp.

My “A” Race for 2010 will be in Sandusky, Ohio, for the full iron distance at Cedar Point Rev3. Only 90miles from where I grew up! Not going to ride the Magnum before I race, though (pictured at the right)… Cedar Point will have a Half and a Full Rev on Sept 12!
Registration includes: Admission to the race, two passes to the amusement park, race shirt, finisher shirt, finisher medal, embroidered visor, water bottle, towel and sponsor Product.
Pros scheduled to appear: Chretien, Thompson, Griffin, and Rapp.

I’ve got some ol’ friends in Knoxville (my pseudo-grandparents that lived next door), and it will be so cool to see them for the first time in several years! Maybe I could even convince them to make me some fudge to fuel my race? Hmm… maybe that’s not a good idea. Hopefully they’ll join me for a day at World’s Fair Park though! Quassy will be a hike for me, but I’ve never been to Connecticut. What better time than 2010? And, of course, my entire crew (that crew being my fam) can come hang out at their favorite park for a day! So, who’s with me? πŸ˜€

[Bold denotes the major race -where the pros are racing- of the weekend, italicized is the minor race, green is the race I’m doin’!]