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I REALLY got a sense of how far running has come in the last 20 years as I heard the newest theories on cross-training at last week's sportsmedicine seminar sponsored by the University at Buffalo medical school.

Here were the top names in a growing field devoted to the effects of exercise on the human body discussing the latest research, yet I kept going back to how little we knew just a short time ago.

There was Dr. David Costill, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, who reminded us it was only recently that runners were allowed to drink water during the first part of a marathon.

Any fool these days knows that if you wait until you feel like you need water in a long race, it's too late. But imagine a rule that said runners could not take water for the first 10 kilometers of a marathon, and then only every 5 kilometers afterward.

Water was thought to be an unfair advantage, Costill said. Imagine, water as steroids. Costill's research on fluids led to the lifting of the ban on water in 1975.

And there was Dr. Joan Ullyot, a physician and best-selling running author, who reminded us of the time Katherine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 when women were banned from the race.

The ban was bad enough. But Ullyot went on to say how the fossils running the Amateur Athletic Union barred Switzer from competition for life because of what she did. Why? Because they said she entered the race fraudulently. Because she ran more than a mile. Because she ran a race with men. And because she ran a race without a chaperon.

"It's hard to believe isn't it?" Ullyot said. "It was only 1967, but it sounds like medieval times."

The UB sportsmedicine seminar, in its second year, had as distinguished a panel of speakers as you'd find gathered anywhere in the country. Neil Dashkoff, a cardiologist, Mel Brothman, an orthopedic surgeon, and Dave O'Keeffe, the sportsmedicine specialist, runners all, put the seminar together.

A sampling from this year's session that centered on cross-training:

An examination of Ironman Triathlon competitors by cardiologist Pamela Douglas found the world's best-trained athletes had leaky heart valves.

"At first we thought it was as strange as when doctors first discovered athletes had larger hearts," Douglas said. But there is no apparent danger, just as with the larger heart. It's a training effect and should be looked upon not as a problem, but the sign of a well-trained athlete.

Douglas also answered a question for me after her talk. I asked why, like many runners, I was turned down to give blood because my resting pulse is below 50. Is there any danger?

"None," she said. A low pulse is also a training effect, and she would have no problem drawing blood from a runner with a pulse in the 40s. American Red Cross rules barring low pulses are meant for those with heart disease. Such a pulse in that case could make the person a candidate for a pacemaker.

Ever wonder why your head, hands and toes start out so cold on a run? Dr. Mary O'Toole, an exercise physiologist, showed how the body reduces the flow of blood to the extremities at the start of exercise. After 10 minutes, the flow greatly increases and you feel warm again.

Running has a far greater effect on raising the heart rate than cycling does, O'Toole also found. Test subjects who spend five hours on a stationary bicycle and three hours on a treadmill -- glad I missed that workout -- were found to have a heart rate increase of one percent per hour on the bike, as opposed to three percent per hour running. The higher the heart rate, the more tired you become.

Wonder what the equivalent distances of exercise are for various sports? Dr. Alfred Morris, chief physiologist at the Armed Forces Staff College, told us what they are. Morris, a marathon runner himself, basically took the world's best times at each sport at each distance, factored out as many variables as possible, and compared them to running.

Running to swimming is a 4-1 ratio. In other words, if you run four miles, you need to swim a mile for an equivalent workout. For every mile run, bike three to four miles, skate two miles, or row two miles. Cross-country skiing is basically equivalent.

Last race update

There will be a last race of the year after all. After Emery Fisher warned in this space last week that the race might have to be canceled because of the failure of Empire Savings Bank, the sponsor, Don Mitchell of Runtime Services stepped in and saved it. It will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 29. Three laps around Delaware Park. Call 839-3049.

Fred Gordon's annual Gordon's Gallop will be held again New Year's Eve. It's one lap around the park and free. Meet at the statue of the hunter at 11:45 p.m. Call 837-3031.

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