December 22, 2022

 “Run Long, Run Healthy” will not be published next week. It will return on Thursday, January 5.

Happy Holidays to All! Amby

“Descending ladders” climb to top of max fitness ladder

The descending ladder interval workout has always made a lot of intuitive sense. You go really hard for a set distance and pace (let’s say 3 laps) that you probably couldn’t repeat a second time. So you cut down your second repeat to 2 laps while maintaining pace. Then you do a 1 lapper. Then half a lap. Always at the same pace.

The result is a strong piece of training at a hard pace. You manage to hold that pace through the entire workout, with each repeat remaining “do-able,” only because each is shorter than the preceding one. 

Now we have impressive physiology data to reinforce the benefits of descending ladders. At Outside Online, Alex Hutchinson describes a paper that compares several different workouts, and explains the power of descending ladders.

Several weeks ago I noted another report favoring long intervals over shorter ones for stimulating your vo2 max. It appears that High Intensity Decreasing Interval Training, or HIDIT, is even better. More at European J of Applied Physiology. 

The secret of Kenyan running success

It’s no secret that Kenyan runners have dominated world competition for the last 30 years. The “secret,” or at least the unknown, is a clear and compelling explanation. Maybe good genetics plays a role; no one is quite sure. Maybe it’s the altitude and clean air. Or the fact that most Kenyan runners don’t touch a drop of fluids during their weekly 30K long runs. “That’s okay,” says head coach Patrick Sang. “They don’t need it.”

In this wonderful story with fantastic photos, Sang posits that simplicity and community are the key building blocks to strong Kenyan running. At training camp, the athletes follow a routine of “Sleep, eat, train, repeat.” Everyone pitches in with the shopping, cooking, and cleaning--even superstar Eliud Kipchoge. He has just one special perk--a modest private bedroom.

“I think that when you stop leading a simple life, your mind-set loses contact with the outside world and you lose your focus on your actual goals,” says Kipchoge. “At this point, you run the risk of forgetting about the really important things in life.”

The article author adds: “The Rift Valley – Iten and Kaptagat in particular – is like nowhere else on earth. Everybody knows a champion who is friends with another champion, who is the neighbor of another champion.” Magic begets more magic. More at World Athletics.

Welcome to the “Recovery Decade:” Get more sleep

If you or I were to claim that we’re in the “Recovery Decade” of exercise training science, it would be hard for anyone to argue. Sleep is the new intervals. A few examples follow.

Here’s an Infographic that sums up a recent Sleep Loss systematic review and meta analysis. It found that every hour of lost sleep diminished performance by 0.4 percent.

The U.S. Navy considers itself a “ high-reliability organization that must maintain optimum performance under challenging conditions.” To see how things were going, the USN commissioned a major study of the sleep habits of 7617 personnel on 73 different ships. Result: Basically no one was getting more than 7 hours sleep. Worse, “Fatigue-induced occupational functional impairment was directly related to sleep deficiency.” More at Journal of Sleep Research.

Most interesting of all, recent Philadelphia Marathon winner Amber Zimmerman, PhD, is doing post-doc work in “sleep medicine.” Does that make her a believer? Yup, big time. Even though she’s often running long in the pre-dawn hours, Zimmerman aims for 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night. There’s another good reason she’s performing better now than ever before, having achieved a 5 minute improvement with her 2:31:35 at Philly. Zimmerman notes that she has slowed her easy-day runs from 7:00 pace to 8:30 pace. More at Fast Women.

Big data reveals that exercise protects against serious Covid

Doctors from the large Kaiser Permanente health insurance group took a retrospective look at more than 190,000 people in their system who had a positive Covid test. They asked these subjects: “How much did you exercise before getting Covid?”

The results showed a clear dose-response association between degree of inactivity vs regular exercise and severity of eventual Covid illness. “Those who were consistently inactive were 191% more likely to be hospitalized and 391% more likely to die than those who were consistently active.” This held true across ethnicities, ages, prior high blood pressure, and other variables. 

The researchers concluded:The results of this study document substantially higher odds of hospitalization, deterioration events, and death, with lower amounts of self-reported physical activity in a stepwise fashion for adults infected with COVID-19.”

Therefore, “Public health leaders should add physical activity to pandemic control strategies.” More at American J of Preventive Medicine.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Nasal breathing strips helpful to runners but certainty of evidence is “very low.”

>>> DIY myofascial release effective against ITB in cyclist group (free full text)

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you in two weeks. Amby

December 15, 2022

Here’s the free, abridged edition of my weekly “Run Long, Run Healthy” newsletter. It goes to non paying subscribers.

Run long and healthy. Amby


Important result: Stroke risk lowered, not raised, by atrial fibrillation in endurance exercisers 

One of the few bad outcomes associated with long term vigorous exercise is an apparent increase in rates of atrial fibrillation. This is worrisome because AF is linked to a higher risk of stroke. And no one wants that.

However, regular exercisers are weird. Some of the bad stuff that happens to non-exercisers doesn’t happen to those who stay active. One example of this is coronary artery calcium. Large CAC deposits are deadly in men who don’t exercise, especially if they are overweight smokers. But in exercisers, the risk basically disappears. 

Now it seems the same may be true for AF. When Norwegian researchers investigated 500 men who were over age 65 and had been frequent participants in the Birkebeiner 33 mile cross country ski race, they found that the athletes did in fact have a higher incidence of AF. However, “the long-term risk of stroke was substantially reduced [by 40 percent] compared with non-athletes.” So the skiers suffered fewer strokes, which is the feared and dangerous outcome. More at BMJ Open Heart.

Run “quiet” for fewer injuries and no loss of speed

It’s nice, if a bit rare, when a simple piece of running advice proves to have measurable benefits. This study describes one such stride technique.

The researchers wondered what might happen if they asked a group of experienced subjects to “run quieter.” So they designed a study to find out. Here’s the protocol.

Fifteen female runners with a 5K PR under 23 minutes ran on a laboratory treadmill to allow for measurements of their running economy and various forces they generated. Next they did a comfortable 15-minute run while an audio device recorded the sound of their running footfalls on the treadmill. Throughout the effort, they were instructed to “run quieter.” They were also given feedback every 3 minutes regarding the decibels they were producing

For their next week of normal run training at home, the subjects were asked to remember and repeat how they had run quieter in the lab. Then they came back to the lab for retesting of all their initial measurements. 

Result? First, running economy didn’t change. That’s good news. You wouldn’t want to improve one set of measures while lowering another. Also, ground reaction force and loading rate decreased. This might lower injury risks. 

Therefore the researchers concluded: “Simple instructions to ‘run quietly’ can yield immediate and sustained reductions in force profiles, which do not influence running economy.” Runners might benefit from “periodically monitoring foot strike decibel level and focusing on reducing” it. More at Journal of Sport Rehabilitation.

Which does more for your endurance: Altitude training or heat training?

The paper noted here was written about cyclists preparing for the great multi day tours. The findings should mostly apply to distance runners. The basic question: What’s better, altitude training or heat training?

Physiologists have known for a century that altitude training can improve hemoglobin mass and thus boost oxygen efficiency in endurance sports. Usually it requires three weeks residence at 7500 feet or slightly more. There’s reason to believe in the “Live high-Train low” approach (you can maintain speed better at low altitude workouts) but newer research seems to favor “Live high-Train high.”

The concept of heat training for endurance is newer but well established. Heat training improves the “sudomotor response”--you sweat more efficiently and fare better under hot conditions--and can also increase blood plasma and hemoglobin levels if you stay at least 3 weeks in the heat. 

It would be nice to combine both methods to get an additive effect, but “It appears the two may clash if imposed in combination.”  So which environmental training technique wins this battle? The one that mimics where you’ll face your next big race. In distance running, you’re more likely to face heat challenges as in the summer Olympics or World Championships or even unusually warm spring/summer marathons.

Which brings up the question of heat training in winter time for a spring marathon. Is there any point in trying the old multiple “sweat shirts” method? Sure. It might produce “physiological adaptations comparable to natural exposure” while also allowing you to “complete the rest of your weekly training in cooler conditions” to maintain a faster pace. More at Scandinavian J of Medicine & Science in Sports.

16 science-backed benefits of running

I don’t recommend every article about the benefits of running and high-level fitness, because we have heard much of it before. On the other hand, it’s often a good idea to be reminded of that which we already know.

Especially if the reinforcement helps us keep going--the ultimate goal. So here are 16 mostly-scientific benefits of running. I’ve found that their relative importance have changed for me through the years (and decades). Now things like “Running makes you happier” and “Running connects us” rank higher than ever. More at RunStreet.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Ladies, be careful. A too-tight heart-rate chest strap could lead to Mondor’s disease. (Here’s the definition of Mondor’s disease.)

>>> The “Mediterranean Diet” is super-healthy but the Green Med approach is even better, especially for belly fat reduction.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you next week.

December 8, 2022

Here’s the free, abridged edition of my weekly “Run Long, Run Healthy” newsletter. It goes to nonpaying subscribers.

To receive the complete, full text, deeply researched edition of RLRH (for just $4/month), check out the simple details here. You can cancel at any time.

Remember: "I spend hours searching the Internet, so  you can review the most important and informative new material in minutes.”

Run long and healthy. Amby


4 surprising insights on endurance nutrition

The SweatScience guy, Alex Hutchinson, doesn’t often come upon endurance nutrition wisdom he hasn’t heard before. But he recently attended a conference that did include a few such pearls. Like, do you know what’s wrong with big salads? Or when fruits and veggies aren’t necessarily the healthiest foods? If not, follow the link below. 

I figured out some of this stuff a few years back from my own experiences, and now counsel others to “Eat healthy 360 days a year, but not necessarily before your most important marathon races.” With help from Canadian sports dietician Jennifer Sygo, Hutchinson also has some good advice on keto diets, the risk of low iron, and … well, pooping for faster times. More at Outside Online. 

Complete guide to Ground Reaction Forces--a key to injury control

Any time you feel a slight ache or pain, or are coming back from an injury, or perhaps returning to running after pregnancy, you should pay attention to vertical ground reaction force--GRFs. This is the force with which your body hits the ground with each step. 

The lower the force, the less you’ll experience pain or continued soreness. On the other hand, a low force also means you have to keep building up before you’re ready to run normally. It’s a delicate balance, requiring patience and a slow progression. 

First you’ve got to know something about relative GRFs. Which you maybe didn’t yesterday, but you do now, thanks to biomechanist Max Paquette and colleagues at the Univ of Memphis. They’ve just published a long list of activities and GRFs as measured in serious runners who were averaging about 35 miles per week.  

First things first. According to the new paper, your GRF is 2.46 (body weights) when you’re running on flat ground at any easy, relaxed pace. For recovery and rebuilding, you’ll obviously want lower GRF activities. 

Here are a few: The lowest measured was just 1.02 for the mini squat jump. (Note: I’m linking to YouTube videos here, but the videos were not produced by Paquette’s team, and may not represent the forces the team recorded. Be cautious with all new exercises.) A higher squat jump would raise the GRF to 1.35. 

An ankle jump comes in at 1.69, double jump roping at 1.97, and the popular A-skip exercise at 2.0 

Fast running scores a 2.66 and plyometric bounding a 2.78. I asked Paquette about downhill running, and he responded that it could increase forces by 40 to 70 percent, which makes it a definite no-no when you’re injured. On the other hand, fast uphill running produced a score of 2.54--barely above the 2.46 of easy running on the flat. The researchers note: “Uphill running may provide an alternative to speed workouts during injury rehabilitation.” More at Physical Therapy in Sport. 

Do you need to know your foot type and arch height?

Years ago runners were advised to use the “wet test” to determine their arch type and best shoe selection. This involved wetting the bottoms of your feet, and then placing your feet on a dry sheet of paper to see what damp, darkened shape they left behind. This would place you in the flat feet, normal arch, or high arch category. 

However, the “wet test” practice has fallen out of favor, since there is little evidence to support it. That’s probably a good thing, because, according to this new paper, few athletes have any idea about their foot “morphology” (ie, the foot shape, especially the arch height). These days runners are mostly advised to buy shoes by “feel.” If they feel great in the store and on a brief running test, that’s your best guide. More at European Journal of Human Movement. 

How to deal with the “most chronic disease” of endurance athletes

Winter’s nearly here for many of us, and it can be a tough season for those with EIB--or exercise induced bronchospasm. A new review labels it “the most common chronic disease among elite athletes” and particularly troublesome “for athletes of endurance, winter, and water sports.”  

A good warmup and the use of heat exchange masks can prove helpful, as well as prescribed medical inhalants. These, of course, will require consideration of current anti-doping regulations for anyone involved in elite competition. More at The Physician & Sportsmedicine. 

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Unexpected report: Bruce Lee probably died from hyponatremia (excess water drinking). 


NOTE: If you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text version of RLRH for $4/month, you would also have received new articles about:

# A great race tactic for setting new personal bests

# Why you shouldn’t do some workouts even though you can do them

# A beginner’s guide to plyometrics (and greater ankle power)

# The benefits of StairMaster training for runners

# Preventive cardiology experts explain: “Here’s how to keep your heart healthy.”

# Should you skip the Gatorade?

# How “predominantly plant-based” diets are as good for athletes as omnivorous diets

# And a motivational quote from Maya Angelous

CLICK HERE for details about subscribing to the complete, full text edition of Run Long, Run Healthy.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you again in a week. Amby


Dec. 1, 2022

Here’s the free, abridged edition of my weekly “Run Long, Run Healthy” newsletter. It goes to nonpaying subscribers.

To receive the complete, full text, deeply researched edition of RLRH (for just $4/month), check out the simple details here. You can cancel at any time.

Remember: "I spend hours searching the Internet, so  you can review the most important and informative new material in minutes.”

Run long and healthy. Amby


How do you know you need a recovery day?

We all know our training plan must include hard days and easy days. But what’s the right ratio between them? Should it be 1:1 or 1:2 or 1:3, or some other ratio? Other important, related questions: How should this ratio change by training volume and intensity, or by age and sex? 

Endurance expert Alan Couzens thinks a measurement like morning heart rate (or HRV, heart rate variability) is the way to go. Check every morning, then decide on your training for the day. It’s a simple, objective measurement. “It's silly to set your training plans to arbitrary cycles of load & recovery (3:1, 4:1 etc),” Couzens notes. “Your body's readiness for training is cyclical, but not predictable, even for a very stable athlete. In other words, take recovery when your body says, not when ‘the plan’ says.” 

But Couzens’s tweet drew a contrary view from another exercise expert, Inigo San Millan. He responded: “In many instances when an athlete is fatigued it may be [too] late and it’s key to be ahead of it. I always go with a plan and check multiple parameters, especially blood biomarkers to check that training is assimilated correctly.” 

They both make good points. I lean toward conservative approaches, so I favor San Millan’s perspective. But it couldn’t hurt to also include HRV as part of your evaluation process.

6 sports nutrition myths, including a view on fasting

There’s a lot of confusing, often contradictory, and not-evidence-based sports nutrition information all across the internet. Here sports nutritionist and former elite cyclist Anne Guzman notes 6 that she labels “myths.” You’ve probably heard that moderate caffeine/coffee consumption doesn’t dehydrate you; Guzman agrees with that, and offers some context.  

Most interesting is her thinking about intermittent fasting and training while fasted--in the morning before breakfast, for example. Guzman doesn’t think these will do much for your weight loss efforts. However, she adds: “I'm not dogmatic about not training fasted since there is some interesting science around the adaptive response to training fasted related to metabolism.” More here.

A sneak peak at the new book Born To Run 2

You would have expected this book a decade ago. After all, the original anti-shoe, pro-Tarahumara best selling adventure tale came out in 2009. Most writers and publishers would have launched the “how to do it yourself” edition a couple of years later. But Chris McDougall is a war-reporter at heart--he lives for the chase and discovery. He’s not your typical “how to” advice author, and I admire him for that. So he held out as long as he could before producing B2R2. 

But eventually his coach, Eric Orton, or his publisher applied more pressure. Now we have Born to Run 2--one of the clunkiest book titles ever. I didn’t expect to like B2R2, or to learn anything from it. I was wrong on both counts.  

The book is lively and fun--all credit to McDougall’s writing skill. The photography is fantastic. And I definitely learned things I had never encountered in 60 years of reading running material. Especially the strange indoor running form drill powered by “Rock Lobster” from the B-52s. I’ve actually done it a few times at home (with YouTube music), and it’s a good one. The drill is included in this book excerpt at Outside Online. 

Top (free) marathon training plans--and non marathon too

The internet is bursting with free marathon training plans (and ones you have to pay for), but some deserve a bit more attention than others. Particularly when they bring a lot of plans together in one place, which allows you to select from a substantial menu.  

Runners World’s first senior writer, Hal Higdon, has long led the way in this department. Even though his programs are also available for $$$ at Training Peaks (with a few bells and whistles), Hal continues to offer them for free on his personal website. So far as I know, he was the first to do so--back in the Dark Ages pre-2000--and his programs have been followed successfully by thousands of runners. Here’s Hal’s basic Training Plan “menu” page. I counted quickly and found at least 50 different training plans. All free. 

Another high-quality source has now followed in Higdon’s footsteps. This is Marathon Handbook, which recently made all its plans free at this webpage. MH also excels at producing a vast number of free runner-advice articles on almost every topic you can imagine.


NOTE: If you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text version of RLRH for $4/month, you would also have received new articles about:

# The best, most effective interval workout you can do

# Fueling up, or fasting, before afternoon training sessions

# How a “Power Hour” could boost your race fitness

# Are visual cues the key to day-in, day-out motivation?

# “Unfavorable iron, immune, and stress responses” after low-carb diets

# Is milk better than water for rehydration?

# Good news: Your running economy improves with experience.

#A compelling quote from Marcus Aurelius about the power of the mind

CLICK HERE for details about subscribing to the complete, full text edition of Run Long, Run Healthy.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you again in a week. Amby

Nov 17, 2022

Here’s the free, abridged edition of my weekly “Run Long, Run Healthy” newsletter. It goes to non paying subscribers. 

To receive the complete, full text, deeply researched edition of RLRH (for just $4/month), CLICK HERE for all the details. Remember: You can cancel at any time. Also: "I spend hours searching the Internet, so  you can review the most important and informative new material in minutes.” 

NOTE: Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., so I’m taking the week off (and running my 60th consecutive Manchester Road Race in Connecticut.) You’ll receive your next RLRH on Dec. 1. Enjoy the holidays, keep moving, and stay safe. Amby 

Intense “block” training produces “superior results”

Training programs allow for an almost infinite variation in the key elements--distance, pace, and recovery. One promising but little studied approach can be called the “short block” or “microcycle” method. It challenges endurance athletes with several days of consecutive hard training followed by several days of relative rest. A training program that lasts 3 to 4 months could then include a number of these blocks as it builds toward a peak. 

Here researchers worked with elite athletes--a group that can’t easily improve fitness. They happened to be cross-country skiers. Judging from their vo2 maxes, these skiers were roughly equivalent to runners who could cover 5K in 15:00. While half the skiers served as a Control group that maintained normal training, the other half were asked to do a 6-day Block of hard intervals. [The 6 days actually included 3 hard, 1 recovery, 2 hard.] 

After the 6-day block, the skiers had 5 recovery days, and were then tested for pre- and post-comparisons. The tests showed that the Block skiers improved more than Controls in a 1-minute speed test, and in pace at a predetermined blood lactate level. In this sub-max test, they also had a lower heart rate and perceived exertion.  

Conclusion: “BLOCK induced superior changes in indicators of endurance performance compared with CON.” More (free, full text) at Frontiers in Sports & Active Living. 

Best therapies for iliotibial band syndrome Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is a frequently seen injury among runners, triathletes and cyclists, producing pain and stiffness on the lateral (outside) edge of the knees. Physical therapists have many tools and modalities to work on ITBS. This systematic review delved into the most successful. 

It concluded that “deep transverse frictions” didn’t seem to work, and “are not recommended.” Trigger point decreased pain and improved function. Both shockwave therapy and dry needling “showed improvement in pain and limb function.” More at Int J of Advanced Health Science & Technology. 

The best exercise routine when you’re 65+ … or even 85

Whatever you age is today, some day you’re going to be 65+. And at that time, you’ll probably be wondering what’s the best combination of aerobic exercise and strength training for the rest of your life.  

A new study looked into that question to provide the answers you want. More than 115,000 “seniors” were followed for 7.9 years to discover what amount of aerobic and strength exercise would provide the greatest longevity benefit. The aerobic benefit was linear--with more being better. Those who logged more than 5 hours a week enjoyed a 32 percent reduction in mortality risk. The strength curve was U-shaped with a 21 percent reduction at 4 to 6 “episodes” a week. At 7+ episodes, this bounced back up to just 2 percent. 

The investigators concluded that continued exercise “is important for all older adults, including those aged 85 years or older.” More at JAMA Network Open. 

Important new insights on the exercise-brain connection

You don’t take tennis lessons to improve your baseball skills, or expect that bicep curls will lower your half marathon time. Yet we have tended to make overly simplistic links when it comes to exercise and the brain. Until now. 

A new paper on physical activity, memory, and mental health employed “roughly a century’s worth of fitness data” pulled off Fitbits to find that “different physical activity patterns or fitness characteristics varied with different aspects of memory, on different tasks.” In other words, the kind and intensity of exercise you do has different effects on various brain functions and your mental health. 

This is a bit of an eye-opener as few have considered these different connections before. The researchers found, for example, that more active participants scored higher on many memory recall tests, but less active participants performed better on “foreign language flashcard tasks.” 

Stress levels floated in and out of the analysis. “Participants who reported higher levels of stress” tended to be more active, which should have a calming effect. However, those doing light activity were less anxious and depressed.  

On the whole, the researchers found that “engaging in one form or intensity of physical activity will not necessarily affect all aspects of cognitive or mental health equally (or in the same direction.)” Clearly there’s much more to come from this new frontier. 

The paper concludes with a very broad statement, meant to be both provocative and far-reaching. “Our work may have exciting implications for cognitive enhancement. Just as strength training may be customized to target a specific muscle group, or to improve performance on a specific physical task, similar principles might also be applied to target specific improvements in cognitive fitness and mental health.” More (free, full text) at Nature. 

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Sprint the straightaways, jog the curves. Because body forces are much higher on the curves 

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you again in two weeks. Amby

NOTE: If you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text version of RLRH for $4/month, you would also have received news about: 

# Why you shouldn’t do sexy fast intervals and tempo runs

# Proof that high dairy fat consumption improves heart health in men

# A smart post-marathon recovery program

# The differences between an “elite” stride and a “novice” stride

# How skipping can save your knees and strengthen your ankles

# The latest on blood boosting and EPO

# Treadmill recommendations direct from runners who use them

# How prior strength training improves knee/hip replacement surgeries

# How belly fat is linked to poor cognitive performance

# An inspiring quote from Aristotle 

CLICK HERE for details about subscribing to the full text edition ($4 month). You can cancel at any time.