It's no revelation to state that people have always run, whether to escape from a sabertooth tiger millennia ago, or to catch a bus during rush hour in a modern urban environment.

But running has served as much more than simply a means to get somewhere fast. The activity played an integral part in human evolution according to research recently published in the scientific journal "Nature" (and reported in the Nov. 18 edition of The Oregonian by Robert Lee Hotz of the LA Times-Washington Post Service).

A couple million years ago, humans' ability to traverse the African savannah at breakneck speed, to scavenge food and avoid predators, may have proved the difference between perpetuation of the species and extinction. So said researchers at Harvard University and the University of Utah, who surmised that long-distance running capability was a driving force shaping modern humans' anatomy. The scientists asserted that although humans are slugs at shorter distances, a healthy human runner can out perform most animals for extended periods over longer distances.

Kudos for local runnersIf anybody was born to run it's Dennis Braun, my favorite local athlete. For almost three decades, this modest and affable Seaside resident has been wowing 'em at competitions ranging from tennis tournaments to triathlons. Currently the 45-year-old Braun is training for Powerman Alabama, a March qualifying event for the U.S. team which will compete at next June's World Championship Long Course Dualthon in Italy.

The Alabama competition consists of a five-mile run and a 34-mile bike ride, followed by another five-mile run. Thanksgiving StrategiesHow do I not overindulge at Thanksgiving is a question most Americans ponder before taking a seat at the turkey-day dinner table. Here are four tips.

• Eat a hearty breakfast, a moderate lunch and nibble a few healthy snacks before sitting down for turkey and all the trimmings. Then you won't be tempted to gorge yourself during dinner (and you may be too full to sample any high-calorie desserts).

• A glass of wine or a bottle of beer may contain 100 or more calories. Plus, alcohol can act as an appetite stimulant. If you want to eat less, keep your alcoholic intake to a minimum.

• Sure cheesecake is a holiday favorite, but it's also one of the most calorie-laden desserts. Pumpkin or fruit pies are a better alternative; just forego the whipped cream topping.

• Take a post-dinner walk of 15 minutes or more before retiring for the evening. If you return home hungry, drink a cup of warm milk, herbal tea or both. Decaffeinated chai tea blended with non-fat milk is my favored before-bed beverage. Braun is no rookie at this sort of event; he has won numerous regional duathlons of varying distances. His training regimen - best described, perhaps, as fast, faster and faster still -- would quickly wear out even top-caliber amateur and professional athletes. For example, when I last saw him, Braun had pedaled his bike from Seaside to my workplace in Astoria in a driving rainstorm. He departed during a "window" of dry weather that surely didn't last long enough for him to reach home without getting soaked a second time. Never know, though; he's a speedy cyclist.

But Braun isn't only about running and biking. He enjoys counseling and coaching promising high school athletes, especially during the warm-weather months. Surfing, skim boarding, slow-sand sprints and hikes up and down Saddle Mountain are some of the undertakings he participates in with his teenage entourage. "We stress lots of fresh new stuff, eye-opening activities that don't resemble the same fitness regimen these kids are used to," Braun says.

Come spring, Braun is shooting for a finishing time of two hours, 30 minutes at Powerman Alabama. "That's reachable," he says without a trace of bravado. The winning master's time last year for male competitors 40 years and older was 2:26. Braun needs to place among the top seven finishers in his 45 to 49 age group to be considered for the U.S. team, which will number approximately 100 men and woman. He has made the team twice before.

GustoAnother local competitor with virtually unlimited athletic gusto is Charlie Conrow, a wiry, rail-thin 58-year-old who splits his time between Portland and Ilwaco, Wash. A few weeks ago, Conrow competed for the first time at Hawaii's 2004 Ironman Triathlon World Championship, the holy grail for multi-sport athletes from around the globe. His finishing time of 12 hours,14 minutes and 58 seconds earned him 18th place in his age group.

An Ironman-distance triathlon is no walk in the park; Conrow first swam 2.4 miles in the open ocean, then pedaled his Softride bike for 112 punishing miles on the Kona coast's unforgiving blacktop, where temperatures crested triple digits. Next up was a marathon, 26.2 miles of running along a section of that same shade-less course. Conditions, Conrow said, were brutal: hot, humid and very windy, even by Hawaii standards. Although this was his initial foray into the Hawaii event, Conrow has completed eight Ironman-distance triathlons in the U.S. and abroad, along with other world championship competitions in Sweden and France.

Richard Fencsak is the co-owner of Bikes & Beyond. His column runs every other week in The Daily Astorian.


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