June 9, 2022

THIS WEEK: A new, improved strength-training “formula.” Run your perfect marathon with optimized carbs, fluids, and RPE. Kenyan runners don’t eat enough, but don’t seem to suffer harms. Learning to love last place. What’s the deal with “leaky gut?” How to avoid injuries in obstacle-course races. More.

Best paper of the year yields new strength training “formula”

This paper was just voted “exercise paper of the year” at the annual American College of Sports Medicine meeting. Why? Probably because it recommends a new, more-effective, and evidence-based strength training routine called the “3/7” approach. 

Here’s how it works. You do 5 sets of lifting at 70% of your one-lift max.The first set requires just 3 lifts, the next 4, then 5, 6, and 7.Take a short 15 second rest between sets. The entire lifting “bout” should take just 90 to 120 seconds.

The research team from France and Northeast Ohio Medical University has tested their routine a number of times with different muscle groups. With bench presses, the 3/7 workout produced more than twice the gain in “muscular strength” vs. 4 sets of 6 lifts (at 70%) with a 2.5-min rest between sets. The team believes the 3/7 approach combines both “mechanical tension” and “metabolic stress” in an effective ratio. 

It makes me wonder if a similar approach would work for short interval running repeats. Of course, any running repeat lasts much longer than a single lift. And life and fitness are not this simple. Still I’m thinking about doing accelerations of just 30 yards or so, separated by a brief “float,” then another acceleration. Maybe 3/5  with a minute of walking between sets. Anyway, the wheels are spinning, as they always do following an impressive new paper. More at Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews.

How two runners ran strong at Boston

It took me a while to find and review this fascinating Boston Marathon info, but two commercial websites--Supersapiens and Precision Hydration--posted deep analyses of runners who followed their prescriptions and performed well at Boston. That said, both runners slowed a bit during the second half, so these results aren’t overly sugar-coated … or perhaps I should say glycogen-coated. At any rate, both reports are detailed and insightful, and likely to make you think about your marathon fuel and fluid strategies.

David Lipman, 34, has been a Supersapiens employee for about a year. (The company sells continuous glucose monitors that you can wear while running.)  Lipman ran Boston in a personal best, 2:48:14, after passing through halfway in under 1:23. The report here concentrates on his carbohydrate loading process and his within-the-race use of Maurten, the energy gel. The result: His blood glucose level stayed relatively steady the whole way. The link shows a graphic overlaying his glucose level, his pace, and his heart rate on the up-and-down Boston course. We’ve rarely before seen this sort of data presented in one place, so it’s insightful. More at Supersapiens.

One Precision Hydration user, Richard Southgate, 55, ran 3:26:58 at Boston. (1:39:47 at halfway.) The linked page below explains Southgate’s drinking and carb strategy. He consumed about 18 oz of fluids/hour, which included 64 carbohydrate grams/hour (236 calories) and some caffeine. He rated his race satisfaction as 7 on a 10 scale, noting that he hadn’t trained specifically enough for the Boston course. More at Precision Hydration.

The path to the “optimized marathon”

Based on the above, and the paper here, we seem to be headed toward the “optimized marathon.” That is, the idea that if you can collect enough data in real time, you can adjust your running to achieve a best-possible result.

French physiologist Veronique Billat is a world-recognized expert in distance running. Here she found 9 experienced marathon runners willing to wear a “face mask” during a marathon so she could measure various physiological data from start to finish. This is believed to be a research “first.” The runners had an average age of about 40 and an average finish time of 3:32. 

As above, they weren’t able to hold even pace. But they didn’t “hit the wall” so much as they suffered a “systematic drift” to a slower pace after 25K. While heart rate remained the same--at around 160--their stride rate decreased and their pace slowed. Their Borg Relative Perceived Exertion increased dramatically from about 14 at halfway to 16.11 at the end. 

This led Billat to “suggest that the running of a marathon must be self-paced with the RPE.” She didn’t provide a target number, but her subjects couldn’t maintain an RPE of 13.9. So it seems something around 13.0 would be a good target. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Kenyan runners don’t eat enough, but don’t suffer expected harms

Among elite runners in the U.S., the issue of Low Energy Availability is a major concern, as it is closely linked to too-low body weight, hormonal issues, bone stress, and overtraining. So how about Kenyan elites? A research team investigated the Energy Availability and hormone status of 56 top Kenyan runners (30 male). Result: 87% of females and 96% of males seemed to be at moderate to high risk of LEA. This would imply that the runners would face health obstacles on the way to marathon success. Only they didn’t. They didn’t seem to exhibit the same problematic hormone responses as Caucasian athletes. As a result, the researchers speculated that LEA risk levels, “which are based primarily on White racial populations, are not appropriate for African-based populations.” More from an abstract at American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting.

Learning to love a last-place finish

We all have bad days, we all get slower as we age, and we sometimes wonder if we are going to finish last in a race. Here’s a wonderful essay about why we shouldn’t let these things bother us. Danielle Friedman, author of Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, says she came close to finishing last in the New York City Marathon. In fact, she finished in 6:27 behind 49,000 others in 2016, and she was a youthful mid-30s at the time, though running with her almost-70 father. He was the one who helped her make peace with her pace. It’s a good mantra: “Make peace with your pace.” And just stay out there, just keep moving forward. More at NYTimes.com

Don’t get fooled by “buzzy” health and fitness claims

We’re all trying to live well with exercise, diet, meditation, and more. And thousands of product purveyors would love to sell us their stuff. But caveat emptor. Buyer beware. And Nick Tiller, scientist, ultra runner, and professional skeptic, wants to help. Here he has composed a list of 10 buzzwords that should make you think twice before you buy a product. Many are overused without sufficient (or any) proof. Some examples: “Superfood,” “Immune boosting,” “GMO free,” and more at Skeptical Inquirer

What causes “leaky gut” in runners?

Leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability) can cause runner problems, ranging from GI distress such as bloating and nausea to heat illness and even heat stroke (in severe cases). Researchers have been trying to figure out if hot weather or high oxygen consumption contribute to leaky gut. (High intensity would divert oxygen from the gut to the leg muscles, upsetting the gut’s normal supply.) Some of these experiments have involved interesting hot-bathtub soaks, and also the amino acid glutamine. But the finger seems to be pointing more at high-effort running. More at My Sports Science.

Run spartan, get muddy, but careful with the water

Obstacle course races like the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder events have a relatively low injury rate, only about 1.4% requesting medical help, while 27 percent report some kind of “extremity injury.” But obstacle course training in the military has “the highest injury rate of all major testing or training activities.” So here a veteran Army researcher explains all he has observed and learned through the years about things like ankle sprains, lacerations, blisters, and more, including “infections from microorganisms.” I think I’d find the following advice easy to follow: Avoid “ingestion of food and drink contaminated with mud.” More at J of Special Operations Medicine.

The ups and downs of hills, altitude, and innovation

Every coach and distance runner I know uses hill running in their training programs. Hills build endurance, increase leg strength, are a great mode of alternative speed work, and more. But that’s not why I’m linking to this technical article on hill training for sprinters. Rather it’s because the University of Oregon has something I’ve never seen or imagined: “purpose-built” (ie, man made) hills for training. There are 3 pictured in this article--one with a 3-degree incline, one of 5 degrees, and one of 10 degrees. I agree with the author who states that “hill sprinting carries vast athletic benefits.” More at Sportsmith.

Also, another innovation. The high-altitude (7000 feet) Northern Arizona University now has a new gym with a good-sized workout room (containing about a dozen cardio machines) that can be altitude adjusted (from 0 feet to 12,000 feet). This means NAU runners can do a nice easy or long run outside at high altitude, then come indoors to go harder at low altitude. More at Arch Daily.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Runners and races produce low rates of Corona virus aerosol transmission.

>>> Plant-based diets are great in many ways, but you have to be careful about a couple of things. 

>>> In Japanese distance races over 13 years with more than 3 million runners, rapid use of mobile defibrillator units or bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation proved highly successful against sudden cardiac arrest, which was very rare anyway (1.31 per 100 000 runners).

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

"If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes."--Andrew Carnegie


That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you next week. Amby