NEW THIS WEEK: Be boring: Train like the elites. When not to “listen to your body.” Evidence-based supplements that boost performance. Find your Zone 3 training pace. Why females kick butt in ultramarathons. Sex and the female runner. New “personal cooling” strategies. Strengthen your ankles, stretch your shins. And more
Train like the elites: Do more of the same … with great patience
We can’t always learn a lot from elite runners--they are different from most of us in various ways. But some of the more introspective among them recognize how they are also the similar. For example, longtime British marathon star and two-time Olympian Mara Yamauchi says the “art of copying” from others is okay so long as we adapt what we copy to our own needs. She also notes that when you’re feeling good in training, you shouldn’t necessarily go longer and harder. Rather, “If things are going well, just do more of the same.” That’s a pearl. Remember it. More at Athletics Weekly.
Some would say that Emma Coburn’s training is “boring.” In fact, that’s what her husband and coach, Joe Bosshard, would say. “We try not to use workouts to prove our fitness,” he observes. “We simply repeat a lot of boring training for long periods of time.” Before the recent USA Track Championships, Coburn averaged 90 boring miles a week for 28 weeks. Then she won her 10th national title in the steeplechase. Patience pays off. More at Women’s Running.
It’s okay to take a peek (or two) at your watch
Endurance athletes are often counseled to “listen to your body,” which is hard to argue against. One way to listen: Forget the gadgets. Do your long runs and hard sessions without so much as a watch. Okay, that’s fine. Except that watches, heart-rate monitors, and the like can also serve a purpose. They give you feedback when you are mentally and physically fatigued, and this can help you persist in training efforts, and finish strong.
That’s the conclusion of a new paper that didn’t follow runners but college students performing a 60 minute hand-grip strength task. Some got no feedback, others received “visual performance feedback. Those with feedback did not suffer as much of the “typical reduction in endurance performance” that accompanies long efforts The authors believe their study is the first to measure these variables, and conclude that visual feedback can “prevent the negative performance effects associated with mental fatigue.” More at Psychology of Sport & Exercise.
Some supplements can boost your performance
This is an area that has already been researched quite thoroughly, but a new report is unusually good because it comes from authors with a deep understanding of endurance exercise needs. And it includes only evidence-based recommendations, is written in friendly, easy-to-understand language, and is freely available in full text at the below link. The authors conclude that athletes should choose supplements appropriate to their specific sport. Those most interested in power and endurance might consider caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, branch chain amino acids, and dietary nitrates (like beets). A lot depends on the length of your event. More at Current Sports Medicine Reports.
A second report in the same journal explores a wider range of nutrition and hydration concerns for the “power athlete.” I’m not sure there’s a precise definition for this individual, but it’s probably someone who competes for 2 minutes or less.This paper has special sections on “Athlete Triad” issues and weight-cutting to make certain weight classes prior to competition. If you have to do this, make sure to leave time for “aggressive rehydration and refueling with carbohydrates” before your event. More, again free and full text, at Current Sports Medicine Reports.
How to zone in on Zone 3 training pace
Here’s how to find your 3 key Training Zone paces, if you’re satisfied enough, as I am, with just 3 zones. (And don’t feel the need for 5 or 7 or more, as some do.) Training Zone 1 is the “talk test” zone where you can carry on a casual conversation while running. Training Zone 2 is the “tempo training” zone--roughly your 10-mile to half-marathon race pace. Zone 3, according to this new paper, is between your 1-mile and 2-mile race paces. (If you’re curious, the difference between your 1-mile and 2-mile paces is about 7%, or 20 to 40 seconds/mile depending on your 1-mile best.)
So, what’s a good workout in each Zone? In Zone 1, you can run almost any distance, from an easy recovery run to a long run. In Zone 2, you can run 20 to 40 minutes at a “hard but controlled” pace. Zone 3 workouts are grittier. You might run 3 to 4 repeats of 4-5 minutes each, with a several minute recovery walk/jog. More at Int J of Sports Physiology & Performance.
Why do female runners excel in ultra marathons?
Everyone and her/his grandmother has noted that women runners often kick butt in ultra races. Questions remain about the “why,” and there’s little quality research to provide answers. However, one such report appeared recently from physiologist, ultra-runner, and professional fitness skeptic Nick Tiller.
He and colleagues investigated performance-matched male and female ultra runners from the 2018 & 2019 Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc races. Conclusion: First, you can’t run super-long without some degree of temporary duress. “Ultramarathons negatively impact a range of physiological functions.” But the effects are smaller and less frequent among female racers, especially when it comes to “lung diffusing capacities and biomarkers of skeletal muscle, cardiac, and renal function.” More at Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Sex and the female runner
Runners enjoy spreading stories about how their favorite activity improves … almost everything, including their sex lives. The evidence for this is mostly self-reports--not exactly reliable. A new, more objective study sends a cautionary note, reporting that male and female runners may have increased pelvic floor dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and sexual activity issues. In particular, “female runners with lower pelvic floor muscle strength presented worse sexual function regardless of age, parity, BMI and running practice time.” Physical therapy can often improve pelvic floor dysfunction.
Don’t panic. Another recent paper had better news for women runners, including reports that “high effort physical activity may be associated with improved orgasm.” More at Int Urogynecology Journal.
Stay wet, keep your cool, run faster
Coach and writer David Roche got very excited while watching the recent Western States 100, and listed 7 reasons why. I was struck by #6, what I would call “personal cooling” options and strategies. I predict more innovation in the near future. Runners might wear special long-sleeve jerseys, and try to keep them damp. Or frozen “necklaces” at the head, neck, or waist. (Anyone remember Galen Rupp replacing caps at water stops of the Rio Olympic Marathon with whatever was inside those caps?) How about an insulated waist pack holding a reusable frozen sponge of some kind. A little weight at the waist isn’t oxygen-costly as it is on the legs and feet. It’s time for some personal-cooling experimentation. More at Trail Runner.
Find your precise energy balance
Some folks like to argue that calories don’t matter for weight management. I find this hard to accept given decades of research conducted on “energy balance”--the relationship between calories in and calories out. (I have no trouble accepting that there are lots of other things going on in the worldwide battle of the bulge, but I still find calories a key measure.) Here’s a neat little web tool to help you gauge the calories you need per day given your running and other workouts, and also your calories consumed per day. The goal? It’s simple. You want to achieve energy balance, unless you’re trying to lose or gain weight. More at Rothschild Energy Balance.
Strengthen your ankles, stretch your shins
I’m not sure when ankle-strengthening first became a thing for runners, but it makes complete sense. And here’s a solid article listing the “10 Best” such exercises. I’ve done many of these, but haphazardly. I hope to get more consistent. I can’t say the same for shin stretches. That is, I haven’t thought much about them. But this second article has great, clear GIFS to illustrate 11 shin stretches. Bonus: Both pieces include heel and toe walks, so that seems a good place to begin. More at Marathon Handbook.
Sure, runners get injured. But not severely
Regular runners train consistently, sometimes hard, and get injuries. No one has yet found a way to avoid these injuries. But how serious are they? Do they deal life-altering blows? Not very often according to most reports, which usually note that the benefits far outweigh the risks. A new 12-yr-long analysis of elite athletes in the Netherlands reached a similar conclusion from looking at their blood tests, electrocardiograms, pulmonary function, and cardiopulmonary exercise tests. Of all medical conditions seen among the athletes over a 12-yr period, only 3% led to a temporary “no medical clearance” to exercise order. And all of these were lifted “after further investigation.” Overall, “the vast majority of detected conditions were mild, with consequences limited to preventive advice and follow-up.” More at Clinical J of Sports Medicine.
“Excessive exercise”--the theory that just won’t die
We’ll never see an end to the “excessive exercise” articles, because the media are drawn to the unexpected, such as “man bites dog,” “barefoot running is better than running in shoes” and “too much exercise is bad for you.” The Wall St Journal trotted out a “risks of overexercising” story recently without a lot of evidence. Yes, we all agree that running hard intervals every day is probably not a good idea. But that doesn’t qualify as radical news.
There’s little to no evidence suggesting that typical amounts of exercise are life-threatening. “In an attempt to separate myth from reality,” a recent scientific review acknowledged that “extremes of exercise may pose detrimental effects.” Nonetheless, endurance exercise “confers significant benefits, with athletes gaining an average of 5–7 years of life compared with sedentary individuals.” More at Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology Review.
SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss
>>> 20 great squat variations for runners with helpful animated illustrations
>>> Exercise offers a “possibly effective way to improve Vitamin D nutritional status”
>>> Eccentric exercises improve joint flexibility (HERE) and could reduce runner’s knee pain (HERE)
GREAT QUOTES make great training partners
“The danger of adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort.”--Paul Coelho
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That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you next week. Amby